How lake effect snow forms
December 2nd, 2010
04:41 PM ET

How lake effect snow forms

The motorists stranded on Interstate 90 in upstate New York on Wednesday and Thursday have a Great Lake to thank for much of the mess.

A lake effect snow band has covered parts of the Buffalo area with as many as 24 inches of snow in 24 hours, and more snow is expected through Friday morning.

For those not familiar with lake effect snow, it can form when cold air passes over a relatively warm body of water, such as Lake Erie. The air picks up moisture, which freezes and drops as snow over land.

This explanation comes from the National Weather Service’s eastern region headquarters:

"Long after the passage of cold fronts across the region, the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes often create convective instability in an otherwise stable, arctic or polar continental air mass. … Heat and moisture from the warm lakes [rise] into the "modified" arctic air where it then cools and condenses into snow clouds."

If the winds are right, Buffalo can pick up lake effect snow from Lake Erie, which it is doing now.

Filed under: New York • Weather
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. bill tourot

    lake effect snow is GOD'S punishment for living in Buffalo

    December 2, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave P

      I miss Buffalo... I'm only out in Syracuse now, but I love Buffalo... maybe I'll move back some day...

      December 3, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      Punishment? Buffalo is one of the best cities in the country to live in terms of quality of life. I can't stand people like you that make comments like that. I lived in Miami for two years and came running back to Buffalo. Take a look sometime at how many retired professional athletes that came to play in Buffalo still live here.

      The city of Buffalo ussually doesn't get lake effect snow and when it does you get a snow day. My parents have had to evacuate their house 3 time in the past 5 years because of hurricanes, have had wild fires nearby and theres been a drout for 2 years where its now illegal to wash your car. Not to mention how hot and humid it is inthe summer. South Florida really sounds great!

      April 2, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Cesar

    I've been in WI where it is so cold that my facial skin hurt as well as my glove covered hands. When I feel in the snow, my hard frozen pants stung my skin. I am glad the north is not my home, great people, horrible winters. Naugh said.

    December 2, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. grace

    Ahh....we here in Arizona are having wonderful weather.... 🙂

    December 3, 2010 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  4. phil

    If you call the impending doom of 105 deg. weather wonderful. he he

    December 3, 2010 at 3:41 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jeffrey

    Lake Effect Snow is awesome as a natural phenomena, terrrible to be stuck in, but Buffalo and the surrounding area is a great place to live anyway!!!!!!!

    December 3, 2010 at 4:41 am | Report abuse |
  6. shay

    I want some lake effect snow!!!!!!!
    I seen it when i was there it is cool. Something else that is cool is in reno it will be sunny and nice not a cloud anywhere yet it will be snowing. It blows off lake tahoe it freaks people out.

    December 3, 2010 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. amy

    The lake effect snow machine is likely to produce more nasty storms this month with the water temps being near or at record warm temps. This is bad news for Eastern NY, Northwestern PA, and Northeastern OH.

    December 3, 2010 at 6:44 am | Report abuse |
  8. Papa T

    Buffalo is a great place. Perfect summers, good living, 4 perfect seasons. So we get a bit of snow, we are used to it. It's a little tough on out of town translate though. But we help them out.

    December 3, 2010 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
  9. brutus

    First time I was caught in lake effect snow was in Harbor Springs, MI...I was scared to death, drove to my cabin doing 20 mphs, with poor visibility. Pulled into my garage and stayed there for 5 days!! Would not drive, just walked with snoeshoes everywhere...

    December 3, 2010 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  10. Kara

    We lived in Duluth, MN for 5 years and experienced lake effect snow all winter from Lake Superior. Snow is the good part because once the lake freezes over the wind is almost unbearable plus the whole city is on a hill. Gives a new meaning to sledding.

    December 3, 2010 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  11. Rich

    The best part? Snow Days! I looked forward to them as a kid.

    How many snow days do they get in Arizona?

    December 3, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |

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    August 21, 2012 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |