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Here's Why: We See Lake-Effect Snow

Ever wonder why we get lake-effect snow in West Michigan? Meteorologist Michael Behrens explains in this episode of "Here's Why"!

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — We all know the basics of the water cycle and how evaporation leads to cloud formation, leads to rain or snow. However, while we know lakes and other bodies of water also generate "lake-effect" snow, do you know why this happens?

The Question:

Why does lake-effect snow form here in West Michigan?

The Why:

The most simple answer is the Great Lakes create our lake-effect snow, but you know we won't just leave it at that! 

Lake-effect snow forms when cold winds blow over warm lake water. This creates a situation very similar to how thunderstorms and clouds form during the summer months, where warm air and moisture rises from the surface into the atmosphere creating clouds. 

Credit: Michael Behrens
The basics of how precipitation forms.

The main difference with lake-effect precipitation is that the heat applied to create rising moisture currents did not come recently, it has been stored up in the body of water over time. 

This means unlike during the summer, when storms can die off overnight as the heat dissipates, there is a large reservoir of energy ready to fuel lake-effect precipitation so long as the winds remain in a favorable direction. 

The longer the path of the wind over the water, the more intense the snow bands will become.

Credit: 13 ON YOUR SIDE

With lake-effect snow events, bands of heavy snowfall can last for hours or even days at a time, so long as the overall weather situation remains conducive to lake-effect development. This can result in tens of inches of snowfall piling up in relatively small areas. 

That situation is exactly what we have leading into Nov. 17 to 19. Cold air aloft is going to pass over relatively warm lake waters with plenty of wind to back it up. This will result in a days long heavy snow event here across West Michigan! 

See the ingredients below. 

The set up for lake-effect snow will remain in place through the winter season, so long as the air overhead is sufficiently colder than the waters below. If the lake never freezes, which has been more common in recent years, the potential for lake-effect snow can last, to some degree, all winter long! 

However, the dedication of the 13 On Your Side Weather Team also lasts all winter long! So make sure you stick with us for the latest forecasts throughout the season. 

Stay safe out there West Michigan! 

-- Meteorologist Michael Behrens

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Email me at: MBehrens@13OnYourSide.com

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