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Understanding What Is Meant By Lake-Effect Snow

Among the news that is worth noting is a huge series of snowstorms that hit the Northeast US on the weekend of the 24th of December, 2017. Specifically, the town of Erie, Pennsylvania had temperature and snowfall records shattered. This has happened throughout the US over the last half-decade. However, the snow in this event was lake-effect snow. What is lake-effect snow?

Before this is explained, it should be mentioned that between the evening of December 24 and the early morning of December 27, the city of Erie recorded five feet or 60 inches of snow. This town, located on the shores of the smallest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie, is in the snow belt. This is the region of the US that often has large snowfall amounts, but as mentioned, this snowstorm broke records. This is about two and a half feet of snow per day.

Lake-effect snow happens when extremely cold winds move across an expanse of water, such as Lake Erie, in this case. If the water is warmer than the winds, which is likely if it hasn’t frozen over and the winds are from the Arctic, the air next to the water warms up. The warm air sucks up moisture from the water. Since warm air is less dense than cold air, the moisture is lofted upward.

However, it hits cold air at a fairly low altitude. When this happens, the moisture freezes. It falls as snow. This is lake-effect snow. The amount and duration of the lake-effect depend on how cold the air is and how long it blows over the water. In this case, the temperatures were extremely low and the duration was long because the storms are so intense. In fact, they haven’t ended yet, as of the time this is being written.

As mentioned earlier, cold weather records are being set in record numbers and have been for about the last five or six years. This is one of them and lake-effect snow is the culprit. It is a pity that ‘global warming’ enthusiasts don’t take this as a cooling trend, which it clearly is. However, it is likely that we can expect more of this weather in the months and years ahead.

Lake-effect snow is very real and can even occur over the ocean, though it is usually called ‘ocean-effect snow’ in that event. The cause is the same, as is the result. Lake-effect snow can dump huge amounts of snow and can be exceptionally dangerous.

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Written by Rex Trulove

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    • The jet stream is dipping way far south and it is wide. I fully expect extremely cold temperatures in the plains states, midwest, and northeast. That doesn’t necessarily translate to snow and I’m not sure what impact there will be in the southeast, except cold.This weather pattern reminds me very much of the abrupt cold the country felt a couple of years ago but without the huge amount of moisture that was present back then.

      Yet more cold temperature records are likely to fall. As for lake effect, they are now half expecting the Great Lakes to freeze over. If that happens, there won’t be lake-effect snow. :))

    • Be careful of what you wish and pray for. LOL You are close enough to the Mediterranean Sea that you’ll probably never get snow in this quantity. But here in Montana, we are in the middle of a huge snowstorm. It isn’t lake-effect snow, but there is certainly a lot of it.

  1. We have also have had record snowfall for the months of December here in the Ottawa Valley, Canada. I do not think we had as huge amounts as what you mentioned but this morning we are almost in a deep freeze. There is no wind presently but our temperature is a whopping -28 degrees Celcius which is -18.4 in Fahrenheit. But I still enjoy this type of weather rather than the humid and hot summer. As long as it does not get too much colder, that is…

    • We haven’t been quite that cold yet, here. We’ve had two days that got down to -22 C / -8 F, but the cold weather usually doesn’t get here until late January through February. We also haven’t had a great deal of snow yet, though we have an alert currently for 18-24 inches. Last year, though, there were gobs of snowfall records that fell here. Overall, the winter of 2016-1017 was the snowiest the entire state of Montana has ever had. That led to vigorous grass growth in the spring and one of the worst fire seasons on record, once the grass dried out…about 9 million acres burned in the state.

      • Wow, 9 millions acres… Last year when spring started we had serious floodings areas along the Ottawa River right up to Montreal. A lot of people lost everything in their home along with their home which became unfit to live in. Our summer was quite nice though with only a couple of weeks of extreme heat. Right now as I said earlier it is very cold and we had a large amount of snow before Christmas. But that’s global warming for the world…

        • I have to chuckle about that. When global temperatures are going down, as they have been for almost a decade now, people call it global warming. I can’t help but wonder what it would be called if global temperatures actually increased instead of dropping. Of course, I’m talking about the real data rather than the ‘adjusted’ data.

    • It isn’t a tremendously unusual phenomenon south of the Great Lakes, but it usually doesn’t happen this time of year. That Arctic cold front that is sweeping in is huge. It will spawn a lot of storms. One is hitting Montana right now, and it is the third we’ve had since Sunday. Pennsylvania is way east of us, but it is the same cold front, which gives an indication of how large it is.

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