Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lake Effect Snow


If you live anywhere near the Great Lakes, you'll know what I mean when I talk about lake effect snow. For the rest of you, I'll give the Something Shiny Reader's Digest version of this weather event.

When especially cold air crosses over a large body of water, in my case Lake Michigan, it warms up as it passes over the relatively warm lake water. By most standards, the water is hardly "warm" but 45°F is significantly warmer than the air temperatures this time of year (generally speaking). This now warm-ish air then passes back over land — and this is when the fun begins.

Clouds form over the water and when they hit land and cool down— BAM! You've got snow. People right at the lake's edge remain unscathed because the air hasn't had time to cool just yet. A few miles out, though, they get nailed.

The really fun thing about lake effect snow is that it's unpredictable. It can change pretty much whenever it wants to; you're at the mercy of wind speed and direction. I live about 50 miles east of Lake Michigan about a mile south of the Indiana-Michigan border. I'm close enough to experience plenty of lake effect snow, but far enough away to not get completely blasted by it. Go 10, 20, 30 miles west of here and it's a different story each place. Now, that all depends on the direction of the wind, but they're pretty much in the  "sweet spot" when it comes to lake effect snow.

If the wind comes directly from the north rather than northwest, which is the most common, we won't even see lake effect here. Ah, the power of nature.


Over the last 36 hours or so, we've been dealing with lake effect snow, most of it happening overnight. We had a couple of inches when I came home from work around 6:00 pm, but by this morning we had close to 8 inches. Dwight and I went out to shovel around 9:15 this morning. It looked like this:



After about 15 minutes, the snow really picked up again.

Dwight and I were covered and what we'd already shoveled was piling back up with fresh snow. The one good thing about it being so cold is that the snow is nice and light. None of that heavy, wet stuff that is a pain to shovel.

But three minutes later, the light started to change. "I think the sun's coming out." I turned to look at the sky and sure enough, it started looking like this:

The snow you see falling isn't from the sky, it's from the tree branches. The air had been completely still but the tiniest whisper of wind made the snow come tumbling out of the branches. As I said, this is really light snow and doesn't take much encouragement to blow around.

Then, 6 minutes later, it was brightening up even more.
And looking very pretty.

I put down the camera once again and got to work re-shoveling the walk up to the house. In that 20 minute span, we'd gotten another 1/2 in or so.

And it just kept getting prettier and prettier until it's was downright gorgeous out.
I'm no fan of snow, but you can't argue with how beautiful it can be in the right conditions. It cleans things right up, like a fresh coat of paint on a dingy wall.


It stayed sunny for a few hours, but it's snowing again now. I can't see the driveway anymore. And so it goes...


  1. Jack thinks you posted these pictures just to make me jealous :) We're not getting any of that Lake Effect over here - though i can see the storm line - and I realllllly want more snow before my bday!

  2. Believe me, if I could send every last flake to you, I would! I'll keep my fingers crossed for a white birthday!


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