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Lake Superior lake-effect snow plumes visible from space

Feb 14, 2020 07:07AM ● By Editor
Lake-effect snow over Lake Superior on Thursday, February 13, 2020.  Image: NASA via University of Wisconsin-Madison

By Paul Huttner of Minnesota Public Radio News - February 13, 2020 

Weather geeks are geeking out today over lake-effect snow plumes crossing Lake Superior and the Great Lakes. The meteorologically impressive lake-effect snow plumes blowing across Lake Superior are visible from NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite 23-thousand miles up in space today.

Lake-effect snow
Lake-effect snow over Lake Superior Image: NOAA

The plumes run in parallel bands and funnel lake-effect snow squalls downwind onto the south shores of Lake Superior. Here’s another view from NASA’s MODIS Terra satellite vis the Duluth NWS office.

450 miles long

The low-level air trajectory is pushing the Lake Superior even further downwind onto Lake Michigan today. Notice how the “cloud streets” continue and regenerate over the waters of Lake Michigan and push all the way into lower Michigan and Indiana. That’s a distance of 450 miles.

Lake-effect snow plumes over Lake Superior and Michigan
Lake-effect snow plumes blowing across Lake Superior and Michigan  Image: NASA via University of Wisconsin-Madison

Anatomy of lake-effect snow

Lake-effect snowfall occurs when colder Arctic air blows over relatively warmer lake water on the open Great Lakes. Smaller lake-effect events can also occur on some of Minnesota’s bigger lakes like Red, Leech and Mille Lacs.

As the colder air blows over the relatively milder waters, heat, and moisture are exchanged and lake-effect snow squalls form and dump out on the downwind side of lakes.

Lake-effect snow process
Lake-effect snow process.  Graphic: NOAA

Lake Superior is just 8.7-percent ice-covered today. Lake temperatures are around 34 degrees across the big lake. 

Lake Superior water temperature
Lake Superior water temperature  GraphicNOAA/GLERL

Generally, you need a temperature contrast of about 30 degrees between the lake and the overrunning air mass to generate lake-effect snow plumes.

To read the  original article and see related weather reporting, follow this link to the MPR website.

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