The winter season can be a major hassle for some people while others just have to deal with a slight cool down in temperatures. Over the northern portions of the country, people are faced to deal with the harsh conditions that Mother Nature has in store. Some winter seasons are less brutal than others. Besides the typical storm systems that come through the area and drop different types of precipitation whether it is snow, sleet, or freezing rain, there’s another weather event that affects not everyone in the country, but primarily around the Great Lakes. Lake effect snow is a very interesting mesoscale convective phenomenon that occurs mostly during the heart of the winter season and adds greatly to the annual snowfall that areas around the lakes receive.
Typically impacting a small area, one location could see in excess of a foot of snow where a few miles away, could be only seeing flurries. LES (Lake Effect Snow) can come quickly and produce conditions that are very hazardous for traveling. Things like this as well as other impacts are important to note and as forecasters, try to inform the public to be prepared for an event like this. To understand the whole idea of lake effect snow, one must travel to the past where this phenomenon was first discovered and from there; move forward in time to see the progress that has been made not only in understanding this, but also forecasting it as well.
Lake effect snow was not a quick discovery compared to other forms of weather. In the 1800’s when there was no satellites or weather radar to track a storm, early day forecasters would have to get observations from spotters across the country and provide a one and two day forecast on the type of weather that may impact a given region. What is interesting is that The National Weather Service, formally known as The Weather Bureau, was formed back in 1870 because of the storms that occurred over The Great Lakes which caused many ships to be lost. One would think that with a focus on providing weather forecasts to that location, someone would notice during the winter that LES would be occurring. This however was not the case.
One area that is very well known to LES is Upstate New York. There were forecasters in that area but, their main focus was in regards to the larger synoptic scale weather events such as hurricane or Nor-Easters that would ride up the East Coast. During winter, some of these cyclones would produce gale force winds, and blizzard conditions, but areas such as Rochester, Syracuse, or Buffalo would generally be spared from these weather events. Small scale systems were more difficult for forecasters because they did not have all the tools that forecaster’s now-a-days do.
There are some smaller synoptic scale events that would sweep through The Great Lakes area very common during the winter season and known as Alberta Clippers. These would produce some quick snowfall accumulations, and in a rarer event, these clippers...