Quite The Difference in Lake Effect Snowfall Totals From Lake Erie! (credit: Meteorologist Geoff Cornish)
DISCUSSION: As the lake effect machine finally came to a close during the overnight hours into the day on Tuesday, many people began emerging from their homes to clean up from this length winter blast. There is no question that this lake effect snowfall event certainly outperformed the expectations of many forecasters from around the western to central New York region. However, as you will notice from the above graphic, there was an incredibly strong contrast in the snowfall totals extending from the immediate lake shore to several miles east of Lake Erie. It is worth noting that this was quite similar to the snowfall totals between the immediate eastern/southeastern lake shores and points further to the east of Lake Ontario. Though this is quite common in many lake effect snowfall events, this just goes to show how much of a difference a few miles often makes with seeing little to no measurable snowfall as opposed to a complete whiteout.
This is often a consequence of the ability for associated colder air parcels across the shorter axis of Lake Erie not having enough to destabilize over the warmer lake water. Hence, areas positioned closer to the lake-shore are only typically able to experience the beginning parts of the lake effect-based response to the colder air passing over the warmer lake (as reflected by the context of the lower graphic attached above, courtesy of the Pennsylvania State University Meteorology Department). Alternatively, areas located further inland from the lake-shore are positioned more favorably for heavier lake effect snowfall potential. This is due to the stronger lake response caused by the colder air being moistened (i.e., modified) as the air parcels traverse either the short axis or more favorably the long axis of Lake Erie (or Lake Ontario) along with further enhancement by orographic enhancement by higher terrain positioned east/northeast of Lake Erie (or alternatively to the east, northeast, or southeast of Lake Ontario via the Tug Hill Plateau or the Mohawk Valley).
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~Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz