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Stranded in the Snow: The Lake Effect Machine's assault on Buffalo!

After seeing mild temperatures and flooding rains Wednesday morning, Buffalo, NY saw cold winds kick up major snows off of Lake Erie after the cold front passed -- and it hasn't been pretty. In fact, as of Thursday morning it still hadn't stopped snowing downwind of the Great Lakes where the passage of that strong cold front was only the start of their snowy troubles. This isn't too uncommon for this time of year in Upstate New York.

It's called Lake Effect snow - and for folks who live in and around the Great Lakes, this is how they get most of their snow in the winter seasons. The pattern right now is a classic early-season setup. We see a strong storm system take hold of the East Coast like we saw Wednesday. It passes, bringing the heavy weather along with it. But the key lies with the cold front. Bitterly cold air filters in behind it, and that spells trouble when it passes over the relatively warm waters of the lakes.

Let's look at the situation here in Buffalo right now. We have cold air largely in the 20's to near 30 degrees blowing across Lake Erie out of the WSW in the direction of the arrows. The water temperature of Erie is still relatively warm at 45. This 15-20 degree difference creates huge currents of rising air in the atmosphere. Remember, warm air rises. This warm air cools as it rises through the atmosphere and we quickly see the formation of clouds, and then precipitation. In this case -- it's snow, and very intense snow at that.

The problem for folks who live on the shores of the lakes is that if the direction of the wind doesn't change, neither does the position of the band of snow. In other words -- it keeps snowing over the SAME area for a LONG period of time. And at rates as high as 1-2" per hour, the snow totals add up FAST.


In fact, it got so bad on the New York State Thruway overnight that the highway needed to be closed - and dozens of cars were actually stranded on the highway. As I'm writing this here on Thursday morning, areas in the Buffalo metro area have already seen close to 20" of snow - but it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see then get an additional 8-12" of snow before the end of Thursday.

Such is life living up in snow country. The real storm often lies behind the actual low pressure system.

I'll be happy with our cold sunshine here for now!

- TB

By: Tim Buckley


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