Lake effect snow and how it works and its impacts

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Lake Effect Snow

Lake effect snow is a common weather phenomena in and around the Great Lakes region, including right here in central New York. Lake effect snow is most common during the late fall and winter months.  When cold, Canadian air moves over Lakes Ontario and Erie, the relatively warm and moist air from the lakes rises quickly, condenses, and forms lake effect snow. The bigger the difference between the air temperature and lake water helps to fuel a more intense lake effect snow band.

The direction of the wind is the most important factor of who will see the lake effect snow. Heavy snow could be falling at one location with near zero visibility, while the sun may be shining just a mile or two away in either direction. The geography of the land and water is plays a big role in snowfall intensity too. That is why the Tug Hill Plateau gets hammered by lake effect snow. The Tug Hill is straight east of Lake Ontario and with a cold, moist west wind some of the most prolific snowfall rates of 6+ inches per hour with lightning and thunder can occur in this area!

The higher elevation of the Tug Hill causes the air to rise that much more vigorously intensifying the snow that much more. The Tug Hill Plateau averages over 200 inches of snow per year!

What about snow squalls? You hear the meteorologist warn people, motorists about snow squalls moving into an area but what exactly are they? A snow squall is an intense short-lived burst/band(s) of very heavy snow that typically form along arctic fronts. Snow squalls produce blizzard-like or white-out conditions that typically last less than 30 minutes with rapid snowfall accumulations, a quick drop in visibility and can cause flash freeze conditions on the roads. This makes snow squalls very dangerous to motorists. In a typical winter across the United States, snow squalls can claim hundreds of lives each winter. 

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