Lake Effect snow streamers – a spectacle from space

Over the last 48 hours, Arctic winds have zipped across the Great Lakes from northwest to southeast. Due to contrast between the frigid winds and relatively warm lake waters, ribbon-like streams of snow-producing clouds have formed. On satellite imagery, the view has been stunning.

The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin tipped me off to this cloud show, featuring a beautiful image on his blog.

I dug around some more and found some more eye-popping views, which I share below…

From NASA’s WorldView Web Site  here’s a look at Lake Superior today (top) and yesterday (bottom), as captured by the MODIS instrument on the Terra satellite:

Lake effect snow clouds over Lake Superior Thursday (NASA)

Lake effect snow clouds over Lake Superior Wednesday (NASA)

Whereas Wednesday (bottom) the wind direction over the lake was more from the northwest, the orientation of the cloud streams today (top) is more westerly (or just north of west).

Here’s a radar shot showing some of the snow from the clouds falling over the upper peninsula of Michigan (from Wednesday):

Marquette radar at 4 p.m. Wednesday (UCAR)

Offering a wider view, NOAA’s Environmental Visualization Laboratory featured this image from Wednesday on its Web Site, taken by the VIIRS instrument aboard the Suomi NPP satellite (it shows streamers over Lake Michigan as well):

Satellite view of lake effect snow clouds Wednesday (NOAA)

Lastly, below is a false-color image from the Suomi NPP satellite of the lake effect snow clouds from Wednesday.  According to the University of Wisconsin’s CIMSS Satellite blog, the red shades provide “a qualitative indication of which [lake effect snow] bands might be glaciating [definition] — snow and ice on the ground (as well as clouds whose tops were comprised of ice crystals) appeared as varying shades of red on the false-color image.”

False-color image of lake effect snow clouds Wednesday (CIMSS Satellite Blog)

Note how the red shaded clouds on the southeastern section of Lake Superior moving into the eastern part of the upper peninsula of Michigan nicely correspond with the snow radar echoes two images above.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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Jason Samenow · December 12, 2013

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