Thursday, February 2, 2017

Oddly, Warm Winter Means More Epic Lake Effect Snows

There's not much ice in the Great Lakes, which means
lake effect snowstorms can still get really cranking even now.
Some areas near the Great Lakes, especially parts of northwestern New York near Lake Ontario, are getting epic lake effect snows this week.

There have already been reports of up to 18 inches of snow in some of the favored snow belt locations in New York.

Since the weather pattern supporting the lake effect is expected to continue for a couple more days, I would not be at all surprised if some spots in New York's Tug Hill Plateau pick up more than three feet of snow

It isn't always like this in February. During some winters, large portions of the Great Lakes have already frozen over by now. If open water is scarce because of the ice, not much moisture can be picked up from the lakes by cold northwest winds and deposited on shore in the form of lake effect blizzards.

However, it has been a warm winter. Huge expanses of the Great Lakes are still free of ice. That means the lake effect snow machine can still crank in late winter.

As of January 30, only 9.5 percent of the Great Lakes water was covered by ice. That's not the lowest on record for this time of year, but pretty damn close.

Ice on the Great Lakes will probably expand quite a bit this week, as there's a fairly cold weather pattern over the region. But still, you can't freeze things over that fast.

Deeper lakes freeze more slowly than shallower ones. Lake Erie, nearer to Buffalo, is shallow and is freezing over fairly quickly, so that's limiting the lake effect snow.  (There wasn't much ice in Lake Erie last week, but the past couple of cold days is making the ice extent there get bigger pretty fast.)

Areas south of Buffalo can expect several inches of snow this week from fairly lame snows off Lake Erie the rest of the week.

However, Lake Ontario is much deeper than Erie, so the snow machine will crank and crank but good.

Yesterday, the lake effect band was so intense that some of that snow made it all the way to central Vermont.

Even in cold winters like 2007, Lake Ontario doesn't necessarily freeze up all that much because it's so deep. In February 2007, a ten day lake effect snow siege dumped up to 12 FEET of snow on one part of northwestern New York.

Ironically, global warming could cause more lake effect snows than in the past. Warmer winters mean the lakes won't freeze over so much. Then, during those occasional cold spells that can happen even in toasty winters, you get the lake effect storms.

The only good part about the global warming aspect of that is a thaw will inevitably return to melt some of the excess snow.

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