Lake effect snow: What is it and how to stay safe this winter

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Snow bank following Lake Effect Snow Storm, Watertown, NY, December 28, 2020 (WWTI)

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — Whether you’re new to the area, or have lived here all your life, lake effect snow should become a part of your winter vocabulary.

Lake effect snow is common in the North Country as it is a weather phenomenon that forms off of the Great Lakes when cold air and moisture moves across open water.

According to the National Weather Service, lake effect snow is created when cold air from Canada moves over the Great Lakes, which remain relatively warm in the winter. When this movement occurs, warmer, moist air rises into cold air and condenses into clouds.

These clouds then form narrow bands of heavy snow downwind of the lake. Upon landfall, these lake effect storms can produce two to three inches of snow per hour, which in the North Country, can pile up rapidly.

The NWS stated that wind direction is a “key component” to determine which areas off of the Great Lakes will receive lake effect snow. During these storms, heavy snow may be falling in one location, while just two miles away, the sun is shining.

To prepare for quickly changing weather conditions, North Country residents are urged to make sure homes, offices and vehicles are stocked with essential supplies. This can include, flashlights and extra batteries, food and water, first-aid supplies, heating fuel and emergency heat sources.

During a lake effect snowstorm, residents are urged to quickly find shelter. However, it is not uncommon to be stuck in this weather while driving. Below are tips to ensure safety on the roads this winter:

  • Slow down! Even if the roads just look wet, they still could be slick
  • Ensure vehicles are completely clear of ice or snow before starting the trip
  • Let someone know where you are going and what route you will take
  • Don’t leave the house without a fully charged mobile phone, car charger and emergency supplies kit
  • If you begin to skid while driver, remain calm, ease your foot off the gas and turn your wheels in the direction you want the front of the car to go
  • If you are having trouble seeing due to weather conditions, pull over to the side of the road and stop your car until visibility improves. Turn off your lights and use your parking break when stopped so that another car won’t mistakenly follow your tail/brake lights
  • If your car gets stuck during a storm, remain in the vehicle and be vesible to rescuers

After a storm hits, stay informed on local closures and road conditions. ABC50 will continue to release updated weather forecasts throughout the winter. Check back daily for updates.

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