The Lake Effect

| 1/5/2009 4:30:44 PM

USDA Zone MapLook at any USDA Cold Hardiness Map and you’ll see a thin band along Lake Michigan colored different from most of the rest of Michigan.  Weather Channel maps in winter often show that same area colored white when the rest of the state is colored green.  Though it may seem as if the map-makers run out of the color they’ve been using when they get to the western side of the state, Lake Michigan is the actual cause of the change in color. 

Lake Michigan keeps this area more temperate than the rest of the state.  Here, along the shore, the wind passing over the cooler lake water keeps our summer temperatures milder.  This gives us a Zone 6 cold-hardiness rating, a zone warmer than most of the rest of the Lower Peninsula – even just a few miles inland from the lake.  In winter, the lake is warmer than the air, resulting in less extreme fluctuations in temperatures.

It’s this relatively warm water in comparison with the cold winter wind that produces the phenomena known as “the lake effect,” and it generates a tremendous amount of snow.  Artic air blowing over the Great Lakes picks up moisture from the water, and deposits it inland as snow.  Areas east and southeast of the lakes are where the lake effect snows are dumped because artic air masses typically come from the west.  So while that same artic air is clearing up the skies over most of the rest of the country, Great Lake communities are fueling their plows and preparing to get buried in snow.  Thirty to sixty percent of annual snowfall in these communities are due to the lake effect.

The local radio station here reported that the South Haven area has had 50 inches of snow since November of this year; 2 feet were on the ground on Christmas Day which makes it the whitest Christmas we've had in the past few years.

Not all of this snow is lake effect; the low pressure cell of winter storms that hit much of the country recently is responsible for some of it.  It’s the air flow that typically comes behind the storm’s front that produces lake effect snow squalls.  The wind can last for days, making lake effect snow bands persistent.

Lake effect snows are not restricted to the Great Lakes region; any large, relatively ice-free lake which provides a long stretch of water (known as “fetch”) with warmer water than the cold air blowing across it can produce lake effect snow.  But lake effect snows are the most common and heaviest along the Great Lakes shorelines.

Cindy Murphy
1/9/2009 2:30:03 PM

Lori! I haven't see you 'round these parts in so long, I was about to send out a search party....or at least send an e-mail to wish you a Happy New Year. I have to admit it - I'm an oddity when it comes to having this much snow; I love it! I much prefer winter to spring. Spring here is cold and wet, and if it's going to be cold, I prefer the wet to be in the form of snow. It's been snowing nearly non-stop for the past three days, and I've been in heaven. I've played out in it with the puppy, messed around town on my cross-country skis.....slid around a corner and crashed my car. Ah, there are definitely some drawbacks to having this much snow. But since cross-country skiing is a passion of mine, and because the car is out of commission for at least the weekend, my mode of transportation will have to be the skis. For that I'm not complaining.

1/9/2009 11:37:21 AM

Cindy, I just put in a blog entry about our winter. We don't get nearly as much snow as you, but what we get is to much for me! We've had a lot of ice so far this year! I'm not a cold weather person, so right now I'm dreaming of Spring!

Cindy Murphy
1/6/2009 6:13:20 PM

Hi, Becky. I debated for a while about growing hardy kiwi in my yard just for fun after I read an artical a number of years ago that they were supposed to be the up-and-coming fruit crop in Northern Michigan. I just didn't have the space though; the things grow monstrously huge. We had one trellised on the side of the store at the nursery as an ornamental - we didn't plant the male of the pair, so no fruit was borne. It threatened to take over the building, the walkways, and I suppose the customers, if they stood in one place for too long. They're extremely hardy here, seem to grow feet a day, and sucker easily. Let me know if you try them; I'd be interested in hearing how they do there....but watch out for your chickens! I'd hate to hear they got swallowed by the vine that ate Foxwood Farm! Sunny days to you, (even if there is snow in the forecast).

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