What is the Lake Effect?

snow by a lake
Because of the position of Lake Superior and the eastern movement of the lake effect, Wisconsin experiences some of the heaviest snow storms in the country. Those living in the area have experienced these biting storms, but do you understand just how significant they really are, and the cause of this extreme weather? Take a deeper look at the lake effect, and how it influences the Snowbelt of the country.


The Formation



Snow caused by the lake effect is formed when the atmospheric conditions reach lower temperatures, causing cold winds to run against a contrasting warm lake. This in effect delivers energy to the storm, and also picks up water vapor along the path. Along with this there are a few steps that happen to create the lake effect:


  • Temperature and atmosphere instability – the difference in temperature and atmosphere causes instability between the two. This leads to more moisture evaporation across the board.
  • Fetch – this is the term used for the length of time airmass has to travel across the lake. The larger the lake, the easier it will be for the lake effect to occur. In most cases, at least 62 miles of water is required to produce the lake effect. Lake Superior has a maximum length of 350 miles and width of 160 miles.
  • Wind – the direction of the wind is important when determining lake effect. The directional shear that reaches lower temperatures will provide a higher chance for snow. While speed is less important than direction, it still plays an impact here.
  • Lake cover – once snow and wind has worked to cover up the lake at least partially, the lake effect decreases significantly as a result of a shorter fetch distance.

The Great Lakes


Out of everywhere in the country, the Great Lakes area is most influenced. This ranges from Wisconsin to New York as cold winds carry the extra precipitation, bringing snow and sleet. The Snowbelt in some areas can reach up to 300 inches of snow throughout the course of one season.

For those who live in areas influenced by the lake effect, it is important to understand just how influential it can be on an area. Contrasting winds and temperatures between the lake and the air above lead to this weather phenomena. Prepare your home and family for the potential dangers that these snow storms can bring.

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