What is lake effect snow? It’s impacting Utah, but what does that mean and how does it happen?

Weather

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – If you’ve seen ABC4’s Pinpoint Weather forecasts on Friday morning, you’ve probably heard this term; lake effect snow.

Chief Meteorologist Alana Brophy predicted the presence of the phenomenon while analyzing wind pattern data on Thursday evening, and sure enough, the lake effect snow impacted a good chunk of Davis County the next morning.

It’s almost like her team has been the most accurate forecasters in the state for the last 10 years running (they have).

Explaining what exactly lake effect snow is, Brophy states it has as much to do with the wind and air temperature as it does with the body of water itself. While the phenomenon is typically seen on a larger scale in the Midwestern United States near the Canadian border, Utah sees lake effect snow as well, at a smaller level.

“We see it happen often over the Great Lakes, but here in Utah, lake effect snow is a micro-scale event that happens when colder air from the North moves over the Great Salt Lake,” Brophy says. “The cold air moves over the warmer water at the lake surface, and as the prolonged stretch of colder air passes over the lake, it transfers moisture and warmth into the lowest levels of the atmosphere.”

Once the condensation hits the other side of the lake, the moisture is dropped in the form of light, fluffy snow as the wind propels the flakes across the land.

As it turns out, on Friday morning the wind was blowing from the northwest, sending the snow between Farmington and Bountiful.

Brophy continues to explain that since the temperatures in the area are so frigid, it’s easier for the snow to stick on the surface and ice over quickly, presenting a bit of a hazard on the roads.

Meteorologist Cesar Cornejo, who took the morning forecast duties for ABC4 TV, predicts the lake effect snow could last through lunchtime, but it’s hard to say. It’s a minute-by-minute event that is entirely dependent on whether or not the winds continue to blow.

The results of the effect can vary, but it’s a safe bet that whichever area is seeing the majority of the wind and cold air funnel through it, will see the majority of the snowfall. Residents in Centerville are likely seeing a couple of additional inches of snow thanks to the lake effect, while those outside of Farmington and Bountiful are probably just getting a light dusting on Friday morning.

And while this week’s lake effect snow follows the first major snowstorm of the year, it’s possible that more lake and wind-caused flakes could be a thing throughout the winter, as long as the Great Salt Lake doesn’t freeze over.

That, he says, isn’t very likely.

“Because of the fact that saltwater doesn’t actually freeze, or it has to get really cold before it freezes, it allows us to see that kind of event occur a little bit more often,” he explains.

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