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Lake Effect Snow

Highlights of Lake Effect Snow on Environment

  • Snowfall in some spots ranked among the highest ever recorded in the area.
  • These extreme snowfall events happen periodically along the eastern edges of the Great Lakes.
  • This phenomenon is called “lake-effect snow” and the lakes play a crucial role.
Lake-Effect Snow
Lake-Effect Snow Definition

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Lake Effect Snow Definition

  • It starts with cold, dry air from Canada. As the bitter cold air sweeps across the relatively warmer Great Lakes, it sucks up more and more moisture that falls as snow.
  • The mechanism is influenced by the differences between the amount of heat and moisture at the lake surface and in the air a few thousand feet above it.
  • A difference of 25 degrees Fahrenheit (14 Celsius) or more creates an environment that can fuel heavy snows.
    • This often happens in late fall, when lake water is still warm from summer and cold air starts sweeping down from Canada.
    • More moderate lake-effect snows occur every fall under less extreme thermal contrasts.
    • Lake-effect snowfall in the Buffalo area is typically confined to a narrow region where the wind is coming straight off the lake.
  • Role of Wind Path: Farther cold air travels over the lake surface, the more moisture is evaporated from the lake, thus, more the Lake-effect snow.
  • Orographic effect on Lake-effect Snow: Once the snow reaches land, elevation contributes an additional effect.
    • Land that slopes up from the lake increases lift in the atmosphere, enhancing snowfall rates. This mechanism is termed “orographic effect.”
  • Fall is the transitional season between Summer and Winter.


Lake Effect Snowfall Role of Climate Change

  • Fall has warmed across the upper Midwest.
  • Ice prevents lake water from evaporating into the air, and it is forming later than in the past.
  • Warmer summer air has led to warmer lake temperature during fall.
  • Models predict that with additional warming, more lake-effect snow is likely to occur.
  • However, the warming will lead to more of the precipitation falling as lake-effect rain, which already occurs in early fall, rather than snow.

Lake Effect Snow Cause Heavy Snow

  • Great Salt Lake in Utah is another common area where lake-effect snow develops in the late-fall and winter months.
  • Ocean-effect snow.
    • It forms in the same way as lake-effect snow (except the ocean provides the warmth and moisture instead of a lake).
    • South-eastern Massachusetts, especially Cape Cod, is an area that can receive ocean-effect snow when all the necessary ingredients are aligned.
    • It can also form off the Chesapeake Bay and, on rare occasions, parts of Florida’s east coast (though it would most likely be ocean-effect rain there).
  • Sea-Effect Snowbands: In the Eastern Hemisphere, sea-effect snowbands can develop in the fall and winter off the Sea of Japan and dump heavy snow along the western coast of the country.

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