On Sunday evening all the players in the atmosphere were set up for a classic lake effect snow event for the Great Lakes region. Cold air diving down from Canada was set to stream right over the wide-open (with a below average in ice cover, at just 3.8 percent), and very warm lakes for this time of year.
With lake temperatures in the low to mid-40s and air temperatures in the 20s and teens, this set up a recipe for strong winds and heavy lake-effect snow bands. In fact, the long fetch of winds was so perfect early Monday morning that a quadruple Lake-Effect band set up! This single band of snow stretched hundreds of miles from its inception over Lake Superior, across Lake Michigan, Huron, and eventually over the entire length of Lake Ontario. Nerd alert.
With the arrival of the arctic air mass on Sunday night, temperatures CRASHED more than thirty degrees in 24 hours from 50 degrees early Sunday morning to 17 degrees by early Monday morning. Winds were unforgiving straight out the west (a favorable wind direction for Lake Effect snow off Lake Erie) and gusted to 47 mph overnight. So blinding snow and strong winds at times pounded the lake shore for more than twelve hours.
I know what you’re thinking, “how does blowing snow encase a car in ice?” It doesn’t. There was an additional hazard produced by this impressive lake effect event: Big waves off Lake Erie resulting in frozen sea spray.
Strong lake effect driven winds can cause what’s called a “seiche” on the lakes. A what? Think of a seiche like a sloshing bathtub. When the water rises up the tub on one side, the water level drops on the opposite side. The relentlessly strong westerly winds literally pushes the water up against the eastern side of the lake while lowering the lake level on the western side. In fact, the lake level rose seven feet on the eastern side of Lake Erie. Combine that with 10-15 foot waves, and lake water crashed over the breakwalls and seawalls south of Buffalo.
As the water splashed up and over the walls and encountered the bitterly cold sub-freezing air, the once-liquid water became super-cooled water droplets, turning to ice anything it touched. And in this case, it was vehicles parked along the shore of Lake Erie.
People flocked to the frozen cars for themselves, and they were not disappointed.
And while this was no laughing matter for those whose cars to turned to popsicles overnight, you have to admire people’s senses of humor. My favorite tweet from the event…
Weather is awesome. #cwgpicoftheweek