You may have heard the term “Lake-Effect Snow” on The Weather Channel a few times so far this winter season, but what does it really mean? Lake-Effect Snow occurs when cold air passes over the warm waters of an unfrozen lake. Where is this most likely to happen in the United States? The Great Lakes, of course!
The Great Lakes have a surface area larger than the state of Minnesota. The individual lakes stretch from 190-350 miles across, which is three times the distance needed in order for Lake-Effect Snow to develop and ramp up. Some of the snowstorms from the lake effect produce up to 5 inches of snow per hour, or 11.6 million cubic feet per square mile, which would be enough to fill up the Empire State Building in under three hours!
The five lakes lie around the 45th parallel north, so during the cold months of winter, they’re hit by arctic air from the polar jet stream. When the arctic front travels over a lake, warm water evaporates and heats the air. This drastic temperature change in the air accelerates the evaporation rate, allowing the arctic front to collect nearly 300 billion gallons of water from a single lake.
Surprisingly, the side of the lake you live on can completely change how much snow you receive from this effect. Storms move from west to east, so once the Lake-Effect gets moving, it dumps way more snow on the eastern side of the lake compared to the western side. The arctic front accumulates more and more as it travels across the lake, so naturally, the last end to experience the effect gets the brunt of the snow. For example, Toronto, Canada lies of the west side of Lake Ontario and receives an average of 54 inches of snow per year. On the east side of the lake lies Syracuse, NY. They receive a whopping 110 inches of snow per year because of how Lake-Effect Snow impacts their location.
Feel like you are a Lake-Effect Snow expert now? Get more surprising facts about it here: