Lake-Effect Snow and the Climate

Grand Haven, Michigan

Snow. Every year we in the Great Lakes region know it’s coming, but we’re never sure how much or when. Luckily we have the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences + Assessments to help shed light on what to expect this winter.


GLISA studies and tracks climate and weather in our region through modeling and historical analysis. They’ve been tracking climate change and its relation to snowfall in our region using data over the last 6 decades in an effort to predict snowfall and intensity and coverage.


In our region we’re used to hearing the phrase “lake-effect snow,” which piles feet of the white stuff along the shores of our Great Lakes. The key to lake-effect snow is open water. If the Great Lakes are totally frozen over there is no water for storm systems to pick up and dump on lake shores. Obviously with average temperatures rising globally it becomes more difficult for lakes to freeze over and increases the frequency and intensity of lake-effect snow. This leads to lake-effect snow moving further inland away from the lake shores.


According to GLISA: “Observations from two 30-year periods (with 10 years of overlap) show how lake-effect precipitation, particularly that associated with Lakes Michigan and Superior, is increasing in both magnitude and spatial coverage.”


The flip-side is that large snowstorms we have experienced in the past have decreased for areas not affected by the lake effect. Additionally, the overall warmer temperatures mean spring snow melt will occur earlier and earlier.


For more information, check out GLISA's study here:


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