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The Lake effect

With winter finally being in full swing, the great lakes have been very active producing lake effect snow. Lake Erie, for example, just dumped over 3 feet of snow in Buffalo New York this past week. But what causes lake effect snow exactly? Why is it so intense? And why does lake effect snow not last all winter?

First off lake effect snow has a few components working for it. A large body of water, steady wind, a “land ramp”, and cold temperatures. In order for the snow itself to form, the water needs to be warmer than the air. The water will evaporate and then condense in the cold air forming clouds. The land ramp, which is just an elevation change like a bluff or dune, will help further force the clouds into the air where temperature is colder, and snowflakes will form.  When the clouds for the snowflakes they will start to drop snow finally giving us the lake effect!

Lake effect snow can be so intense due to how strong the winds are and the air/water temperature difference. When both align heavy lake bands appear and can drop rates of 2 to 4 inches an hour. The bands can last for hours and usually will fizzle or die out when the winds switch directions or strength.

Lake effect snow does not last all of winter. When the Lakes finally freeze off the layers of ice cut off evaporation. If there is no moisture going into the atmosphere, then there will be no snow or even clouds. Usually lake effect ceases around middle winter.

That’s a little bit about lake effect snow and if you want to know about the most intense lake effect snow events check out some records that Buffalo, New York has set!

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