Lake Effect Summary - December 1-3, 2010

Maximum Snowfall: Lake Erie 39" (Depew); Lake Ontario 8" (Theresa) 

Duration: 36 hours +/- 

Prime Feature: Classic intense steady event off Erie. Major impact.

The second event of the season was a real "classic" one, one of the most intense and disruptive storms on record for the Buffalo area. It will join storms of Nov 1979, Jan 1982 and 1985, Dec 1993 and 1996, Nov 2000, and the infamous Oct 2006 ones as memorable events. Its legacy will not only be its intense and prodigious snowfall amounts, but its incredible gradient on its north edge across the most densely populated region of metro Buffalo, attesting to its remarkable steady state, moving less than 3 miles during a good 30 hour period. This allowed snowfall rates of 1-2 inches per hour to fall over the exact same area.

The event began quickly and evolved from a departing major synoptic storm which drenched the region with 1 to 2 inches of rain early on Wed. Dec 1st. Temperatures started the day in the 50s but fell rapidly as the storm departed. Cold air wrapped in fast enough to change the rain to a period of synoptic snow during the morning, dropping 2 to 4 inches. Then a lake plume developed by early afternoon on a 260 flow and intensified by 3 pm or so as it rolled into the Buffalo South Towns.

The band then lifted north a bit on a 255 flow during the early evening and remained pretty much locked in place for the next 30 hours or so. None of the parameters for lake effect were outstanding, but they were all quite favorable for a near perfect early season lake effect plume off Erie…850 mb temps of -11c, a fairly high equilibrium level/inversion (10k ft), very good moisture fields below the inversion, good snow growth, no shear and moderate winds. There was the typical thunder and lightning we see during early season events but nothing extreme. The wind fields finally weakened with increasing shear as a surface ridge built in by Friday morning (3rd), disrupting and dissipating the band.

Snowfall amounts were incredible within the band. A general 30 to 40 inches fell in about a five mile strip which ran from Lackawanna and southeast Buffalo, east northeast across northern West Seneca, south Cheektowaga, Depew and Lancaster over to Alden. Amounts dropped off steadily to the south, with about a foot in Orchard Park and less further south. The real story was the northern gradient though. Amounts dropped from two feet to a dusting in just a 3 or 4 mile distance! This was evident along north-south roads like Transit and Harlem. For example, no measurable snow fell at Main and Harlem, but two feet at Walden and Harlem. The Buffalo Airport was right at the cutoff, with 2 inches at its northwest corner and a foot at its southeast corner! Further west, no snow fell in Buffalo at North St., 4 inches at City Hall and a foot at HSBC arena, probably the most remarkable gradient ever seen across the city!

This event had major impact, not only in the 300,000 or so people affected, but from a major backup and shut down of the NYS Thruway from Exit 52 to 54, with hundreds stranded for almost 24 hours. Activity off Lake Ontario, usually fairly similar to Erie, did not materialize nearly as well this time. There was a broad area of snow showers and heavier snow, but single banding never did develop. Shear was much greater and temperatures a bit milder and marginal. A general 5 to 8 inches fell across areas where the snow persisted longest, one just north of Watertown over to Harrisville, the other on the western Tug.

This was a major event with an extreme impact. It therefore earns five ***** stars.

Here are some representative reports. 


Off Lake Erie - Location Snowfall
Depew 39 inches
Buffalo Trace to 37 inches (SE)
Elma, West Seneca, Lancaster 28 inches


Off Lake Ontario - Location Snowfall
Theresa 8 inches
Harrisville 7 inches


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