What is Lake Effect Snow? (Hint: it Involves a Lake)

Since we’ve been hearing about Lake Effect snow this week…

TIME

You don’t need a meteorologist to tell you what lake effect snow is: It’s snow that’s, um, caused by a lake, right? As it turns out, things are a teensy bit more complicated than that, and if you live in one of the states bordering the Great Lakes that are forever getting clobbered by the stuff—or even if you just marvel at the footage of the latest white-out to hit those luckless places—it can help to know what’s actually going on.

Lake effect snow starts the way so much other winter misery does, with a blast of Arctic air descending on us from the north. Water temperature, even in the Great Lakes in winter, is generally higher than air temperature, since water retains heat longer than air does, and the long, slow warming from the summer months tends to linger. Sometimes the difference in temperature—what’s known as the lapse rate—between…

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