What Is Lake Effect Snow?

Lake effect snow is a headline-maker every winter. What exactly is it and how does it form? We explain. Be sure to check out the video!

“Lake effect snow” makes it to the news every winter, usually as a headliner. But what is it, and how does it differ from a regular snowstorm?

Lake effect snow occurs when cold arctic air moves over a body of warmer water, usually the Great Lakes, picking up moisture while crossing the lake, then releasing it as snow when the air cools over land. The lakes produce lake effect snow and continuous cloudy skies throughout the winter months, as long as air temperatures are colder than the lake water temperatures.

The Thanksgiving Lake Effect Snowstorm of 2014

Snow - Blizzard

In 2014, the residents in parts of western New York got clobbered with a ferocious snowstorm the week before Thanksgiving. The magnitude of it was quite a surprise to many who, while most were probably used to large amounts of snowfall in that region, probably weren’t prepared for the 5 feet that fell on Tuesday, November 18th.

That wasn’t a typo. Five FEET of snow fell in a 24-hour period. And when all was said and done, another 2 feet blanketed the eastern Lake Erie and Lake Ontario regions.

Check our long-range weather predictions for your zone here.

The storm caused power outages, high winds, and whiteout conditions, and was blamed for 13 deaths, with many people stranded on major roadways for days. 

This storm, dubbed the storm of “Snowvember,” was one for the record books.  Snowfall totals for this storm beat the all-time snowfall record for Buffalo, which was 81.6 inches over the course of five days in 2001, with a total of 88 inches.

See NOAA’s summary of this storm here.

Video: The New York State Thruway, south of Buffalo. Photo courtesy of the New York State Police.

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This was the first winter my husband and I met! A MAGiKAL one for the books, for sure!

Erfan and friends

Thank you for this article. We were very interested in its findings and decided to look into the question further. As a result of this, it is with regret and a certain amount of trepidation that we have to disagree. Our findings suggest that, for us at least, 49,800,000,000,000,000,000,000 snowflakes would in fact be too much since they would cover the UK with 2 metres of snow (around six feet). This is of course currently in dispute (for instance some members of year 10 are in the mistaken belief that anything above wellie height would be too much as it would result in wet socks. They were also singularly disinterested in any part of the world outside of their own town and decided that the 4 square kilometres of Stafford would become intolerable with only 2.38 x 10^15 flakes of snow) but we will, with your permission keep you informed of the progress of our investigations. Just out of interest, have you considered that a much smaller amount of snow would be incredibly destructive if formed into a snowman army? We have. It’s a frightening thought we’re sure you’ll agree. Perhaps we could have your thoughts. Thank you again for your insightful journalism on this matter and we look forward with anticipation to the progression of this joint venture for the truth.


Looks like January last year at my house, it’s quite the spectacle.

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