Spot on Science: Lake Effect Snow

IT’S WINTER’S LAST HURRAH AND PARTS OF OHIO SAW A SMORGASBORD OF COLD WEATHER LAST WEEK, AS OLD MAN WINTER SERVED UP A BIG BATCH OF LAKE EFFECT SNOW. IT’S A RECIPE WITH JUST 2 INGREDIENTS: A WARM LAKE AND COLD AIR.

THE LAKE NEEDS TO BE SOMEWHERE OVER 35 DEGREES, AND THE AIR NEEDS TO BE AT AROUND 10 DEGREES OR COLDER. WHEN THE COLD AIR FROM THE NORTH AND WEST MOVES ACROSS THE LAKE, IT CATCHES WATER VAPOR FROM THE LAKE AND TURNS IT INTO CLOUDS, PILES OF SNOW, – AND MAYBE A SNOW DAY OR TWO FOR SOME LUCKY KIDS!
SOMETIMES THE SNOW IS SO POWERFUL AND SUDDEN, IT CAN LOOK LIKE A WALL OF SNOW IS APPROACHING!

BECAUSE OF THE DIRECTION THE WINDS ARE BLOWING, SOME PARTS OF OHIO ARE SNOWIER THAN OTHERS. WE EVEN HAVE A SPECIAL TERM FOR THESE AREAS: THE SNOWBELT. OHIO HAS A PRIMARY AND A SECONDARY SNOWBELT – CENTERED AROUND THE NORTHEASTERN PART OF THE STATE. WHAT’S AMAZING ABOUT THE LAKE EFFECT SNOW IS THAT ONE PART OF A COUNTY CAN GET PUMMELED WITH SNOW, WHILE A NEIGHBORING COMMUNITY, JUST A FEW MILES AWAY, HARDLY SEES A SNOWFLAKE!

HERE IN CLEVELAND, WE SEE IT ALL THE TIME: FREQUENTLY, THE SOUTHEAST SIDE OF THE CITY IS A WINTER WONDERLAND, WHILE THE NORTHWEST SIDE BARELY GETS A DUSTING!

LAKE EFFECT SNOW IS ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR SOME OF THE MOST AMAZING WINTER WEATHER NIGHTMARES. LIKE THIS HOUSE DISGUISED AS A SNOW MOUND – OR THIS HOUSE-TURNED-IGLOO, ENCASED BY ICE ON THE SHORE OF LAKE ONTARIO.

SO, AS YOU GET A TASTE OF OLD MAN WINTER’S LAST LAKE EFFECT ENTRÉE, BE SURE TO ADD LOTS OF SALT – ROCK SALT THAT IS!


Instructional Links


Website Article: Lake Effect Living, Lake Effect Snow | Explanation with diagram

Video: The Weather Channel, Lake-effect Snow

Image: Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Lake Effect Snow | Satellite image with explanation   

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