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An Examination of Recent Increases in Great Lake-Effect Snowfall

Abstract for Proposal 0418012<br/>Adam W. Burnett<br/>Colgate University<br/><br/>Because of their thermal capacity and geographic setting, the Great Lakes generate large quantities of lake-effect snowfall along their leeward margins during late autumn and winter when cold continental air masses travel across the ice-free lake surfaces. The physical characteristics and location of the Great Lakes create a unique setting in which subtle changes in broader-scale climate, such as that associated with global warming, might translate into significant changes in local weather. Several studies have shown that lake-effect snowfall has increased significantly in recent decades, whereas no significant snowfall changes have occurred in non-lake-effect areas. These findings suggest a change in one or more of the meteorological or lake thermal conditions that influence lake-effect precipitation. These conditions might include the temperature of the air moving across the lake, lake water surface temperature, lake ice cover, wind direction, and wind speed. This project will assess the degree to which these factors are associated with the recent increases in lake-effect snowfall. The analysis will involve a thorough compilation of all available air temperature and snowfall records for the Great Lakes region and a spatial examination of the data to determine how snowfall in different lake-effect regions has varied over time. An analysis of near-surface wind data over the past 50 years will show the degree to which changes in atmospheric circulation are contributing to lake-effect snow increases. Finally, all available records of Great Lake water temperature and ice cover will be examined as important factors in the snowfall changes.<br/><br/>This study speaks to the question of how broader-scale variations in climate might manifest themselves at the regional and local scales. The implications (both positive and negative) for continued snowfall increases in the Great Lakes region are significant and involve travel hazards, snow removal costs, snow recreational impacts, regional hydrology and municipal water supplies, hydroelectric power production, and soil moisture and agriculture. This study will help to address the causes of recent lake snow increases and to determine whether such increases are consistent with broader patterns of climate change.

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