Published on 19 Nov 2014

Snow joke: 4 feet of snow in one day in US

Here in the UK, a mere 4 inches of snow can send the country into chaos. But imagine this: 4 feet of snow – falling in just one day.

Well you don’t have to imagine, because this is what those living on the eastern shores of the Great Lakes are having to deal with, right now.

Steven Gros shovels snow from outside his home in Orchard Park

Erie County, New York State, has put a travel ban in place – not that cars are going anywhere fast, given the copious amounts of snow that have fallen in some areas.

More than a hundred miles of the Thruway – the main highway across New York state – have been closed by blizzards that have left cars littered along the highway, buried deep in snow.

People have been stranded in their homes. And those who have been brave enough to open their front doors, have been greeted with snow drifts as high as doorways.

Lake-effect snow is the reason for such a large amount of the white stuff falling so quickly – a phenomenon well-known to those living around the Great Lakes.

What causes lake-effect snow?

Lake-effect snow is caused by very cold Arctic air flowing over the relatively warm, moist waters of the Great Lakes.

This causes the cold air to be heated from below – like heating up a saucepan of water on a stove. As a result, energy and water vapour is injected upwards into the sky.

Due to the large temperature difference between the water and the frigid air above, air rises at a very intense rate, creating bands of storm clouds that become more or less stationary.

This causes narrow, intense bands of snowfall to affect the same places for prolonged periods of time, directed by the wind.

Snow: it’s all or not much

Due to lake-effect snow being driven by energy from the relatively warm water of the Great Lakes, the snow often only affects areas within 20-30 miles of the shore.

Areas much further inland than this can see little or no snow, as the clouds lose their energy supply, when they move away from the relatively warm water and travel over the land.

Even in areas that are pounded by snow, there is an almost unbelievable difference in the amounts of snow that fall over short distances.

Taking yesterday as an example, 60 inches (5 feet) of snow fell 1 mile south east of Lancaster, NY state, but just six miles to the north west at Buffalo airport, only 4 inches of snow fell – 15 times less!

And just when you thought Mother Nature couldn’t be so cruel, another 2 feet of lake-effect snow is expected to fall in the same area on Thursday.

Winter it is. A wonderland it’s not.

You can follow me on Twitter for further updates – @liamdutton

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2 reader comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Can the same thing happen over salt water? If we had a blast of icy air over UK seas?

  2. Ashley Haworth-roberts says:

    The – consecutive – winter weather patterns, and cold and heavy snowfall, in the US during 2014 reminds me of what happened in the UK in 2010. Including enormous falls of snow – by UK standards – in eastern Scotland and north east England in late November and early December that year. The late November-early December snow in the UK four years ago came with a north easterly wind – crossing the still fairly warm North Sea. Western areas saw much less snow. But then some of the locally heavy snow that fell later in December 2010 in Northern Ireland and north Wales was associated with very cold northerly winds that had just crossed nearby seas and then moved inland. (Not sure whether Lough Neagh is big enough to cause Lake Effect snow but I suspect not.)

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