National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Lake Effect Summary - January 10 - 12, 2016


Lake Effect Snowfall - January 10 - 12, 2016



Maximum Snowfall: Lake Erie 25" (Angola); Lake Ontario 38" (Lorraine)

Duration:  36 hours +/-

Flake Scale:  3 flakes ***

Low pressure moved north out of the Ohio Valley and passed just west of Buffalo on Sunday January 10th.  The rapidly deepening area of low pressure produced strong winds across the region as cold air came rushing back into the eastern Great Lakes following the passage of a strong cold front.  This set the stage for significant lake effect snow east of both lakes.  Lake temperatures continued to run a little above average for the second week in January following the very warm December, and these warmer lake temperatures likely contributed to the strong lake response.

Following the passage of the strong cold front, lake effect snow developed east of Lake Erie on the evening of the 10th.  The lake effect snow was initially light, with multiple bands developing across the western Southern Tier on westerly flow.  Overnight the lake effect snow increased in intensity as lake induced equilibrium levels rose to over 10,000 feet and moisture increased through the column.  During the pre-dawn hours of Monday the 11th the boundary layer winds over Lake Erie backed slightly to the west-southwest.  This allowed the lake effect snow to consolidate into one, intense single band of snow across northern Chautauqua County.  An upstream connection also developed with banding features off southern Lake Michigan, which enhanced the snow off Lake Erie.  The band of heavy lake effect snow remained near Dunkirk for several hours during the morning.

From late morning through the afternoon the band of lake effect snow reached its peak intensity with snowfall rates of up to 3 inches per hour.  The band also moved a little farther north into Southern Erie County during this time, where the greatest accumulations of the event occurred off Lake Erie near Angola.  The combination of heavy snowfall rates and several accidents prompted the closing of the New York State Thruway for a brief interval between Hamburg and Ripley.

During the evening of the 11th a weak surface ridge would build northward out of the Ohio Valley and towards Lake Erie.  At the same time a clipper system would move into the upper Great Lakes.  The combination of the ridge and approaching clipper allowed boundary layer flow to back to the southwest and eventually south-southwest.  This change in wind direction carried the band of heavy lake effect snow northward across the Buffalo Metro area during the evening.  The band was still strong across the Buffalo Southtowns and some of the eastern suburbs with snowfall rates of 2 inches per hour, but the fast motion of the band northward kept accumulations moderate.  The band of snow then moved farther northward into the Northtowns and Niagara County and weakened as inversion heights lowered and moisture decreased.  What remained of the band of snow moved even farther north into the Niagara Peninsula overnight and weakened further to light snow showers.

 East of Lake Ontario lake effect snow developed overnight on the 10th as cold air rapidly moved in behind the strong cold front.  The lake effect snow was initially light across the northern portion of the Tug Hill Plateau to areas just south and east of Watertown, but then organized into a single band of heavier snow by the morning of the 11th and moved slightly south to center on the northern and central Tug Hill Plateau. 

The westerly flow maximized the fetch across the lake, and strong instability with lake induced equilibrium levels above 12,000 feet allowed for the band of snow to become strong by late morning on the 11th.  The band of heavy snow focused on the northern portion of the Tug Hill Plateau through the rest of the day and evening with snowfall rates of up to 3 inches per hour.  Upslope flow into the Tug Hill Plateau played an important role in enhancing snowfall amounts with this storm.  The steady state position of the heavy snow band produced a very sharp gradient in snowfall amounts across the Tug Hill Plateau, with up to 3 feet on the northern Tug Hill from Lorraine to Montague while areas farther south such as Highmarket received less than a half a foot of accumulation.

Overnight on the 11th a weak surface ridge would build northward towards Lake Ontario.  Meanwhile a clipper system would move into the western Great Lakes.  The combination of the approaching systems forced the boundary layer flow to back to the southwest, carrying lake effect snow northward across Watertown.  Initially the band of snow was still heavy with 2 inch per hour snowfall rates.  By the morning of the 12th the lake effect snow had weakened to light snow showers and moved north of Watertown.

Snowfall amounts from this event were fairly substantial off both lakes considering the snow event only lasted for about 36 hours in its entirety, with most of the heavy snow falling in about a 12 to 18 hour period.  The heaviest snow fell across rural areas, but did have a significant impact on travel across the region with the New York State Thruway briefly closing along the Lake Erie shore.  The lake effect snow did cross more populated areas of Buffalo and Watertown towards the end of the event.  This event earned 3 flakes ***.


Off Lake Erie...
25.0 inches... Angola
19.0 inches... Forestville
14.0 inches... Colden
12.5 inches... Dunkirk
9.0 inches... Hamburg
4.4 inches... Lancaster


Off Lake Ontario...
38.0 inches... Lorraine
35.0 inches... Montague
21.0 inches... Lowville
21.0 inches... Brantingham
16.0 inches... Redfield
15.0 inches... Beaver Falls
8.3 inches... Watertown