Right now as I write this, we are experiencing Lake-effect snow in Southwest Michigan. Lake-effect snow is a distinctive type of snow that is produced when cooler atmospheric conditions create cold winds which move across long expanses of warmer lake water, such as Lake Michigan. This then provides energy and picks up water vapor which then freezes and is deposited on the leeward shores, or in the case of Southwest Michigan it is on the Eastern Shores of Lake Michigan.
‘Leeward' is the direction downwind from the source, which is called ‘Windward'. The windward side of Lake Michigan is Wisconsin, and it comes down from Canada across the lake. The same effect can happen over bodies of salt water, and this is sometimes called ‘ocean effect snow', ‘sea effect snow', or even ‘bay effect snow'.
The effect is enhanced when the moving air mass is uplifted, and it can then deposit large amounts of snow on the leeward shores. This uplifting can produce narrow but very intense bands of precipitation such as snow, ice and sometimes freezing rain, which can deposit at a rate of many inches each hour, resulting in large snowfall totals per hour.
The areas affected by lake-effect snow are called ‘snow belts'. The snow belt of Lake-effect snow in Southwest Michigan runs all along the western shores of Lake Michigan, and as far East into the state sometimes as Ann Arbor, but most often has a cut off somewhere as deep as Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.
According to Wikipedia "This effect occurs in many locations throughout the world but is best known in the populated areas of the Great Lakes of North America, and especially Western New York, northwestern Pennsylvania, northeastern Ohio, southwestern and central Ontario, northwestern and north central Indiana (mostly between Gary, IN and Elkhart, IN), western Michigan and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which can average over 200 inches (5 meters) of snow per year and averages the second most snow of any non-mountainous location, just behind the Tug Hill Plateau of New York State, within the continental U.S."
So right now we are experiencing Lake-effect snow in Southwest Michigan, and are expected to have this condition until Mid-day on Saturday. The best way to think of it is as a snow pumping machine that sets itself up hovering over Lake Michigan, and it just sprays heavy white snow onto shore.
When you live here, you begin to be able to distinguish between lake-effect snow and regular ordinary snow falls. The lake-effect has a consistent steady fall, and is usually a larger flake pattern that seems to just keep going and going.
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