Lake Effect Snow

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By Kevin Arnone on December 28, 2011, 3:42pm

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Have you ever heard on the news about areas that are affected by lake effect snow and wonder what that is exactly? It’s every winter lovers dream. But meteorologically this phenomenon occurs when a colder air mass passes over a warmer body of water, in this case a lake. If you’re a snow lover, then spend one winter on the New York side of Lake Ontario where witnessing a snowstorm that will leave a town paralyzed for days is more common then anywhere else in the United States.

More frequently lake effect snow will occur during the cold winter months in the Great Lakes region when a cooler northwest flow is apparent. A northwest flow is when the direction of the air is blowing from the northwest. When this happens in the Great Lake Region it is usually called Arctic air because the air moving in is much colder. During the wintertime, bodies of water tend to be warmer than the surrounding land because water absorbs more solar energy than land and releases it at a slower rate. This is why usually coastal areas are warmer during the winter month’s then inland areas in these parts of the Country. When the areas of Arctic air from Canada move over the warmer water in the lake it will cause the water from the lake to evaporate into the atmosphere. Clouds will then begin to form as water evaporates into the atmosphere. The areas that are most affected from lake effect snow are directly east of the lake during a westerly flow, this is also known as the leeward side of the lake.

Now what goes up must come down right? The colder the air is, the less moisture it will be able to hold. As more water or water vapor from the lake evaporates the cloud will gain in size as well as in height. The greater the gradient is between the temperature of the air mass and the temperature of the water in the lake will play a significant role. Usually, the greater the difference in temperature, the more snow that will have to be shoveled off the driveway. If all the ingredients in the recipe are right, one example being surface temperatures are cold enough to support snow than precipitation in the form of snow will begin to fall as the air mass moves over land.

Areas that are affected by lake effect snow could see 300 inches of snow in one winter! The Great Lakes region is not the only place that is affected. Any area in which cooler air moves over a large warmer lake, there is a possibility of lake effect snow. The same concept applies for lake effect rain; the only difference is the surface temperatures may not be cold enough to support snow. So if you’re a snow lover and want to witness significant snow falls on a more commonly basis, moving to an area in which lake effect snow is there source of wintery weather is right for you!

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Kevin Arnone

Town: Milford, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since February 2012.

Articles: 131

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