Ah, Lake Effect

Living near the shores of the Great Lakes in the United States and Canada means having weather a bit more different from those who live further inland. These large bodies of water moderate the climate making it cooler in Summer and warmer in Winter. How pleasant!

Well, there is a catch. In late Autumn and early Winter, often the lake waters are warmer than the surrounding air mass. This results in increased precipitation as the cold air picks up moisture when it crosses the warmer lakes then releases it unceremoniously upon reaching land. When the air temperature is above freezing, it rains; below freezing, it snows. This precipitation tends to occur in narrow bands so depending on wind direction, some nearby localities are affected more than others.  One can literally drive or walk through a wall of precipitation with these bands.

Today here in Western New York, there is a very cold (~20F) air mass crossing over the 39F water of Lake Erie. And so we are experiencing a good old-fashioned Lake Effect Snow Event in the Buffalo Metropolitan area. I left 6 inches of snow (and still falling) at my home this morning and arrived at work in Buffalo to barely a dusting.

At some point later in the season air temperature and water temperature will likely even out making these events much less dramatic. Until then, depending on which side of the shovel one might be, we enjoy or endure.

Doppler radar showing the narrow band of lake effect snow (~10 to 15 miles wide).

Doppler radar showing the narrow band of lake effect snow (~10 to 15 miles wide).

Conditions at noon on December 11, 2013 in East Aurora, NY (~20 miles south of Buffalo)

Conditions at noon on December 11, 2013 in East Aurora, NY (~20 miles south of Buffalo)

Conditions at noon December 11, 2013 at SUNY Buffalo State on the west side of Buffalo, NY

Conditions at noon December 11, 2013 at SUNY Buffalo State on the west side of Buffalo, NY

Twenty four hours later – December 12, 2013: Approximately 3 feet of snow fell at The Acre. Below are shots taken this morning at home and upon arrival at my Buffalo workplace.

The small greenhouse on The Acre covered in snow, December 12, 2013.

The small greenhouse on The Acre covered in snow, December 12, 2013.

The campus at SUNY Buffalo State bathed in sunshine, December 12, 2013.

The campus at SUNY Buffalo State bathed in sunshine, December 12, 2013.

The Acre's feeding stations are enveloped after ~3 feet of lake effect snow dropped in less than 24 hours.

The Acre’s feeding stations are enveloped after ~3 feet of lake effect snow dropped in less than 24 hours.

UPDATE: December 16, 2013

Well, I am becoming quite snow weary after 6 straight days of the white stuff. We had about 4 feet of snow on Saturday morning following four consecutive days of lake effect precipitation when a widespread storm came through (effecting all of the Great Lakes and Northeast U.S.) dropping another 6 or so inches. On Sunday, after clearing the most recent snow, I went inside and no more than 5 minutes later, another lake effect event developed leaving a foot of snow in just under 7 hours (see photo below). We’re now up to more than 5 feet of snow on the ground. Thankfully, the snow bands have shifted further south of The Acre and are forecast to break up early this afternoon. The weekend forecast is calling for highs in the mid 40s with rain. Next up, ice-jammed streams and localized flooding, me thinks!

Another lake effect snow event hits southern Erie County leaving a foot behind in less than 7 hours on 15-Dec-13

Another lake effect snow event hits southern Erie County leaving a foot behind in less than 7 hours on 15-Dec-13

10 thoughts on “Ah, Lake Effect

  1. Yes dramatic photos. I hope you enjoy your privileged status in the high snow district.
    Here in Boston the Atlantic Ocean sometimes enhances our snowfall, if the wind is from the northeast. Of course that is where the wind does come from when there is a stormy low pressure system running up the coast.
    I’m actually hoping for a light year this time around.

  2. I used to live about 20 miles east of Buffalo, just outside of the snowbelt. We would wake up to listen to school closings and hear schools closed to the west, Although snowdays were generally rare, they were more rare for us than places like Buffalo, Lackawana, Amherst, Cheektowaga and other places to the west. I currently live in area just south of the snowbelt. I do not see much. During our last storm, we received about 4 inches of mostly rain, some ice and a little snow (1/2″). 14 miles north received 2 inches of rain, a little more ice and about 5 inches of snow. I miss the snow.

    • David – My father used to live in the southern end of Cheektowaga and one Winter, a 5 mile wide band of lake effect snow fell over his area for about 36 hours. It ended with about 7 feet of snow! It was a very crippling event for that part of Cheektowaga but they had it all opened up within 2 days. We even managed to get close enough to his place the following day (he lived in a mobile home park) to at least dig a path to his door – it took 10 hours for three of us to accomplish, mostly due to having no where to throw the snow. As you state, while the tendency is for the snow to fall south of the metro area, it is a fickle weather event for which the entire region needs to be prepared. We’re up to over 4 feet of accumulation here on The Acre and expecting up to 8 inches of more snow today with a general storm coming in from the southwest. I’m happy to share the excess with you. Bring up a truck and a crew of shovelers and you can take some back home with you! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Ah, Lake Effect | Oakmoss Education

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    • More than enough but the forecast calls for another 36 hours of this stuff. I recall a number of years back digging my father out of 7 feet of snow in South Cheektowaga during a similar event. The band was much more narrow at that time, going no further south than the city line. Every now and again, Nature attempts to humble the human ego by letting us know she is truly the ultimate power on this planet. I am happy to defer to her will. 🙂

  5. Pingback: SNOWvember (Ah, Lake Effect 2014) | Oakmoss Education

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