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How Lake-Effect Snow Happens (And Why Buffalo Looks Like Hoth Right Now)

The Great Lakes region is the United States' snowiest non-mountainous region. The reason for freak snowstorms like the one currently setting records in Buffalo, New York is a weather phenomenon called lake-effect snow.

So much for autumn, huh?


If you haven’t heard, they’re riding tauntauns in Buffalo this week as a major snowstorm has blanketed parts of the region with as much as six feet of snow.

RT @fe1ix78: The front of my house in South Cheektowaga! pic.twitter.com/CkmPEX7UZD#lakeeffect

— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) November 19, 2014

RT @ffloresm: "@PzFeed: Motorists stuck 30 hours on Thruway and counting. Pic: Steve Ratcliff http://t.co/KVIM7pqKSo pic.twitter.com/xla0jKowLv

— Webcams de México (@webcamsdemexico) November 19, 2014

Anybody else think Buffalo looks like Bedrock in this photo? The Flintstones would feel at home. pic.twitter.com/FPU3gIzfmM

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— Kevin Miller (@kvnmiller) November 20, 2014

Want to help clear the Ralph? We're looking for snow shovelers. Pay is $10/hour + game tickets. Call 716-636-4840 for details.

— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) November 19, 2014

The photos and personal accounts are quite the things to behold but we're also interested in why and how this happened. Dennis Mersereau, who writes for The Vine over at Gawker, provides an in-depth explanation. Mersereau discusses not only how the Great Lakes retain warmth through the winter months, but also why specific wind patterns tend to result in massive snowfall for the southern and eastern shores of the region.

A very basic explanation of lake-effect snow is that the water in a lake (in this case, Lake Erie) retains heat from the summer while the outside air cools during winter and late autumn. When a cold snap appears and frigid southeasterly winds roll across the lake's surface, the melding of warm air immediately above the water with chilly air higher up leads to the formation of clouds. This leads to concentrated precipitation. Then you get this:

Here's what all that snow in Buffalo looks like when you open your front door. pic.twitter.com/F0hT15GjJJ

— Louise Schiavone (@LouiseSchiavone) November 20, 2014

This current blast, unaffectionately called "Snowvember," will likely be a record-setter once the last of the white stuff is on the ground. While Buffalo's citizenry can rejoice in the fact that they've just been provided natural cover in case of a sudden invasion by Imperial troops, such an advantage is probably washed out by the fact that much of the region is under a strict travel ban as the city attempts to clear roads for the commute (and football).

For a much more scientific description of how lake-effect snow is formed (and why Buffalo residents should keep an eye out for this guy), take a look at Mersereau's article, linked again below.

Read more at Gawker/The Vane

Photo credit: Andrew Koturanov / Shutterstock


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