Lake effect a big factor this year for snow-belt resorts?

Ryan

New member
Well...


The current temp in Lake Erie is 51 degrees.... Only one degree off the record temp of 52 since it was recorded starting in 1927.
For anyone not familiar with lake effect snow it is the sweetest thing for east US skiing. Cold air from canada comes across Lake Erie or Ontario and picks up moisture. The warmer the lake the more moisture. It hits the coast and is forced up the natural plateau to the East. The effect is this... Moisture laden air is forced up to higher altitude and colder temps and it dumps out that moisture as the relative dew point drops. What you end up with is a band of snow that sits in place and is not effected by larger weather patterns and storms, but only by wind direction. It can snow in a snow belt when there is not other storm for hundreds of miles.... I know a bit about this because I live in one. it streatches from west of Edinboro PA over into Ohio and runs up over the NY line and through Buffalo.
Here is an interesting article on it.
http://www.islandnet.com/~see/weather/e ... efsnw1.htm

My question is with the very abnormally high lake temps of around 5 degrees above normal, what are we going to get snow wise from it this winter?
My guess would be early season (december) dumps of near record proportions. Perhaps it is just my wishful thinking. I have never read a study that directly links the two but I hope that my theory is right.
 

Anthony

New member
Lake effect snow at this time of year has a big impact on the eastern mountains. The Great lakes and Lake Champlain at this time of year contain trapped heat that when released mix with the cold air coming off the Canadian Shield as the fronts move from west to east. Heavy snow can fall on the NY side of the Great Lakes and then once this air hits the mountains it stalls dropping even more snow. This is one of reasons Jay Peak receives so much snow as it catches systems off the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. The Green Mountains also pick up lake effect snow off Lake Champlain due to their eastern location from the lake.This can cause heavy snow until the lakes finally freeze over . Now maybe the warmer water mixed with colder air will cause more lake effect snow. Scott could probably answer this best. I would think that combination of colder air moving northwest to east and warmer water would prolong the lake effect snow season.
 

Tony Crocker

Administrator
Staff member
A few years ago Buffalo had something like 7 feet in a week around Christmas. Someone had made a similar call about Lake Erie being abnormally warm a month before that.

My understanding is that max lake effect is around the Tug Hill Plateau in western NY. Unfortunately there's only about over 500 vertical there.

I believe lake effect from Superior (which I think is too deep to freeze over completely) is responsible for 200+ plus snowfalls in Michigan's Upper Pneinsula, and at Mt. Bohemia in particular.

The most impressive "lake effect" IMHO is supercold air from Siberia passing over the Sea of Japan, then hitting Niseko (elevation 4,000 feet) with 500+ inches per year.
 

Ryan

New member
Wow Tony... that is some serious depth in Japan.

It is not uncommon for lake effect rolling off lake erie about 20-40 miles inland to dump literally feet at a time. Peek n' Peak gets hammered but only has a 350 ft vert. That is my home resort so I am really familiar with it. Few people believe me but I hit a powder stash after a major dump last winter in early January. It was so deep that I was routinely in fuff up to my waist and even caught a couple of face shots..... that was a first for me. The snow in W NY is amazing but I wish that we had the hill to back it up.

I remember one storm that blew through in 88 or 89 that was off the chart. My family runs a cross country ski lodge called Wilderness Lodge. I was there for the storm and got snowed in for 5 days. The cars in the lot were just lumps under the snow and it was sooooo deep that me and my buddy Dave were jumping off the roof of the building into a particularly deep drift. I think average fall was about 4 feet but the drifts were approaching 7-8. That is the biggest that I can remember
 

Jonny D

New member
wow, those are some serious snow falls.
I never really believed my dad when he talked about lake-effect snow, but one winter i lived about 40km northwest of toronto, and we got way more snow and way colder temps than TO.
Since TO is on the northshore of lake ontario, we get nothing in the way of lake effect snow. When Buffalo is getting pounded, it's either clear skies here or raining. Stupid lake keeping our city warm... (well, could be the nearly 6million people who live along the edge of lake ontario too...)
 

powderfreak

New member
Lake Effect snow does not have as large of an impact on eastern skiing as a lot of people think...unless you are talking about the ski "resorts" just southeast of Buffalo (Holiday Valley) and some hills around the Tug Hill.

I think this is the storm Tony was thinking of when Buffalo got absolutely plastered with snow:
http://www.erh.noaa.gov/er/buf/lakeffec ... tormb.html

Check out some of those snowfall totals...and the 120"+ maximum over the Tug Hill.

Anyway, the lakes are very warm this year, and there will likely be significant lake effect snowfall but it rarely leaves NY state as far as New England mountains concern. The most significant impact Lake Effect has on skiing is more in the central Appalachians where Lake Effect mixed with upslope pounds areas in WV, Garret County, Maryland (Deep Creek ski area), and the western half of PA. Those areas can get over 200" of snowfall per year as they always pick up a significant amount of backlash snowfall when low pressures move northward past New England and the return NW flow crosses over the Great Lakes and then slams into the Appalachian spine.

Lake enhanced snowfall can hit Jay Peak, Vermont more so than other VT areas as occasionally the flow is aligned just right and its strong enough to keep a quasi-band going from Lake Ontario all the way to Jay. The high peaks of the Adirondacks get in the way of a lake band reaching most anywhere else in the Greens. The western Catskills can often get fairly large dumps from lake effect but it mostly affects Delaware and Schoharie Counties which are the NW Catskills where none of the name brand ski resorts are (Hunter and Wyndham are in Greene County on the eastern side of the Catskills)...Plattekill is in Delaware County, I believe and can get hit.

Lake Effect snow off Lake Champlain is also less significant than a lot of people think. Lake Champlain is only like 7 miles across at its furthest. For true Lake Effect to occur, the wind flow needs to be just right coming from the NNW up near Plattsburgh and crossing as much of the lake as possible. This usually ends up with a band that can hit Addison and Rutland Counties on the southern end of Lake Champlain. Occasionally this benefits MRG, Sugarbush, and Killington. Its hard, due to geography and lake orientation, for it to affect anyone else. Sometimes here in Burlington we will get light lake effect snow as the band gets close to shore...but this only happens early in December or November with a very cold, slowly bleeding southward, airmass out of the NNW. The wind also cannot be too strong, as then the air will move too fast and won't be able to pick up enough moisture fast enough. The time it takes a parcel of air to cross the lake from NNW to SSE has to be just right for lake effect off of Champlain...fast enough to organize, but slow enough to be able to saturate. If the wind flow comes too much out of the west off the Adirondacks, downsloping will kill any precipitation chances. We had a few cases last year where Lake Champlain lake effect brought a few fluffy inches to Burlington and points south along the lake shore...and a couple times where it brought up to 6-8" of incredibly fluffy snow at MRG which I believe is in the best position to get lake effect from Champlain. Mansfield/Stowe will never see lake effect snow...neither will Jay, at least not from Champlain as a southerly flow would need to be present and lake effect just doesn't work on a southerly flow as the air is too warm.

Anyway, places east of Vermont do not see any lake effect snow from the Great Lakes whatsoever. Mostly only western NY sees the good snow and while its lacking anything over 1,000ft in verts, I'm sure 1,000ft is still fun with 24" of dust.
 

Tony Crocker

Administrator
Staff member
How much lake effect can the Great Salt Lake produce? And where does it go? One would think Snowbasin, which is directly east of the lake, but I have heard that a NW to SE flow crosses up to 80 miles of water and ends up in the Cottonwood Canyons. Same source estimated that lake effect is responsible for 10% of LCC/BCC snowfall.
 

powderfreak

New member
Tony Crocker":3iz4dx7p said:
How much lake effect can the Great Salt Lake produce? And where does it go? One would think Snowbasin, which is directly east of the lake, but I have heard that a NW to SE flow crosses up to 80 miles of water and ends up in the Cottonwood Canyons. Same source estimated that lake effect is responsible for 10% of LCC/BCC snowfall.

It produces a good deal from what I've seen/read...and it all ends up in the Cottonwood Canyons. They get decent snowfall from storms with southwesterly flows, but then a cold front moves across behind the low pressure system and that lake cranks. That's where Alta gets its 3-4" per hour rates when the temp drops like a rock and all that moisture streams in from the NW off the lake. Its just like the Great Lakes except this time, it hits mountains that rise up to 8K feet out of the valley floor. I'd wager lake effect/lake enhancement is responsible for at least 30% of the Cottonwood Canyons snowfall.

The reason Snowbasin and other areas to the east don't get it as well, is that cold air in Utah pretty much has to enter from the North or Northwest. That's not to say strong cold air cannot arrive from Nevada and points east, but to generate lake effect/lake enhancement, you need a certain air/lake temperature difference of usually 10C or so. Normally, in Utah, for that sort of cold air to move in, it comes on a north to northwesterly flow.
 

Ryan

New member
powderfreak":1stiwy9u said:
Lake Effect snow does not have as large of an impact on eastern skiing as a lot of people think...unless you are talking about the ski "resorts" just southeast of Buffalo (Holiday Valley) and some hills around the Tug Hill.


Great post here powderfreak.... right on the money. I call Peek N' Peak my home sweek tiny home. We are about 70 miles WSW of Holliday Valley and about 20 miles from lake Erie. We get really pounded with a wind heading SW. I am stoked for this season though because I have a feelig that we are going to get really hit hard through the early season. Unfortunately it will only help if the ground temp has a chance to drop and we don't have any more 55 degree days like today.
 

Tony Crocker

Administrator
Staff member
Do I read your explanation correctly that the greater the temperature difference between the body of water and the colder air flow above it, the greater the snow potential? If true, that would certainly explain Siberia, the Sea of Japan and Hokkaido snow. Japan's main island of Honshu is east of Korea, not as cold as Manchuria/Siberia, thus less "lake effect," is that right?
 

Jonny D

New member
Do I read your explanation correctly that the greater the temperature difference between the body of water and the colder air flow above it, the greater the snow potential

Though I'm not a climatologist, I would agree with that statement. It does have it's limits, where if it's too cold, the air is so dry that the water vapor just dissipates (i think that's why it seldom snows when it's really really really cold out).

In general, the warmer the lake, the more evaporation occurs, so you have more moisture in the cold air. Thus, more snow.

This explains why in general west coast resorts get more snow than east cost resorts... the jet-stream picks up warm vapour over the ocean, cools off as it reaches the mountains, and starts dumping.
 

loafnut

New member
Jonny D":41vc9uai said:
In general, the warmer the lake, the more evaporation occurs, so you have more moisture in the cold air. Thus, more snow.

This explains why in general west coast resorts get more snow than east cost resorts... the jet-stream picks up warm vapour over the ocean, cools off as it reaches the mountains, and starts dumping.

Except that the water off the west coast is generally cold. And most ski mountains are way inland. I suspect the greater snowfall has to do with the elevation. They get more upslope snow and what liquid does fall, falls as snow. And few thaws. I believe many eastern ski areas in the east get as much precipitation as many western resorts, its just that much of that precip is rain here. The sierra's and PNW are probably the exception, they have elevation and seem to get a ton of precip.
 

sven

New member
Tony Crocker":13bhjehc said:
Do I read your explanation correctly that the greater the temperature difference between the body of water and the colder air flow above it, the greater the snow potential? If true, that would certainly explain Siberia, the Sea of Japan and Hokkaido snow. Japan's main island of Honshu is east of Korea, not as cold as Manchuria/Siberia, thus less "lake effect," is that right?

They mention that briefly in an article in this years Powder gear guide ("Moondrop, Rebirth on the Northern Island", p. 82-91):

"It's the snow that defines Japan's northernmost island. It floats in at night when you're sleeping. It falls all day. It whitewashes the town, the mountains, lift towers. The locals say it comes from Siberia. Freezing air crosses the Siberian plains, then hits the moist Sea of Japan. Another Russian front. The phenomenon has made Niseko Ski Resort one of the snowiest in the world at 551 inches per year. Averaging a feathery four percent water content, it seems like more. In the 13 days we ski here, eight feet falls."

Why the hell am I in New York City biking in shorts and a t-shirt on November 30 in 66 degree weather? Well, I guess its better than 40 degrees, dark, and rainy in Stockholm....

Sven
 

Tony Crocker

Administrator
Staff member
Western snow is generally upslope orographic uplift. I think Larry Schick and I concluded that about 7,000 feet of uplift maximizes precipitation. Mt. Rainier gets the most snow between 5,000 and 10,000. Supposedly most of the moisture has already precipitated by the time you get near its 14,000 foot peak.

In the Rockies the Great Basin plateau is around 4,000 feet. Thus one might expect snow to be maximized at 11,000. Sounds about right from what I see in Colorado and Utah.

You also want a range of mountains oriented north-to-south so the prevailing westerly winds will force the storm over the mountains rather than around them. Like Sierra, Wasatch, Tetons, Selkirks. Isolated peaks like Big Sky, Arizona Snowbowl, Ski Apache get less snow. The PNW volcanoes are not isolated but just rise above the 6,000 to 7,000 foot Cascades. Colorado has mountains oriented in a bunch of different directions, so the snowfall is usually in the 250 range but there are several localized microclimates that get much more.

Larry and I believe the world's maximum snowfall is in the Coast Range from about the northern end of Vancouver Island up through SE Alaska. You've got the 7,000+ of uplift right next to the ocean, and that far north nearly all the precipitation will be snow at 7,000. The whole area is massively glaciated, so it's next to impossible to get anyone in there to do measurements.
 

gwest

New member
How much lake effect can the Great Salt Lake produce?

I believe "official" estimates are about %15 of alta's snowfall. Not sure how they determined that.

There are several factors that determine lake effect potential. Lake to higher level temp differences and wind direction are the biggest factors. For Great Salt Lake effect snow, you want a lake sfc to 700mb temp difference of >16C, there's some other threshold for the great lakes involving the lake sfc temp and 850mb temp. As far as wind direction, you want maximum fetch over the lake, which for the GSL, is NW flow, for some of the great lakes its northerly, and for others its westerly. You also want this wind direction to be consistent through the levels of the atmosphere (limited wind shear is the technical wording). There are some other factors as well, but they are less important. The NW flow over the Great Salt lake conveniently points the lake effect band at the cottonwoods, funneling air right up the cottonwood canyons enhancing the snowfall further. And Powderfreak's right, 3-4"/hr does happen. The Snowbasin area doesnt get it as much partly because of the wind direction our cold air typically comes from, but also because the westerly wind direction doesnt allow for much fetch over the lake. The Oquirrhs, on the west side of the salt lake valley, get dumped on quite a bit by lake effect, as they are directly south of the lake. However, with their north-south orientation they dont present much of barrier, and as a result dont cause much orographic lift.

Also, as far as moisture from the lakes...
With the Great Salt Lake, the moisture picked up from the lake is fairly minimal, pre-existing atmospheric moisture is necessary. The role of the lake is its warm temperature, which leads to warm air at low levels, causing instability, rising motion, and convergence over the lake. In the Great Lakes the moisture from the lakes is more important, however, the instability that it causes is also very important.
 

Jonny D

New member
I stand corrected about my thoughts as to western areas getting snow :oops:

However, I still stand by the assertion that the difference in temperature (within reason of course) contributes heavily to "lake effect." Just now I have no good evidence :)
 
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