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John Wheeler: How it can snow 80 inches in one storm

Lake-effect snow happens when cold air blows across a long fetch of open water that is much warmer.

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FARGO — From Nov. 16 through Nov. 20, a band of heavy lake-effect snow focused its attention on the area around Buffalo, New York, producing crazy snow reports of as much as 80 inches. Lake-effect snow happens when cold air blows across a long fetch of open water that is much warmer. As the air blows across the warmer water, it warms and becomes more humid. This now unstable air rises rapidly, producing very heavy snowfall rates, often combined with thunder and lightning. The bands of snow tend to be very narrow, and so typically focus this heavy snow in a relatively small area over a relatively short time.

In this case, however, the wind lined up directly over the long, still-unfrozen Lake Erie, and changed very little over four days, resulting in the snow emergency. Erie County, in which Buffalo is located, received anywhere from 12 inches to more than 80 inches of snow during the blitz.

Related Topics: WEATHER
John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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