LAKE EFFECT STORM "BALD EAGLE"
December 24, 2001- Jan 1, 2002
Flake Scale *****5 Stars
Maximum Snowfall: Lake Erie: Buffalo Airport 81.6" Lake Ontario: Montague 127"
Duration: 7 Days
Prime Feature: Longest lasting lake effect event on record. Record snowfalls, tremendous metropolitan impact. Not much wind. Temperatures not exceptionally cold.
After a record warm and nearly snowless November and December, western and central New York underwent one of the most significant and abrupt changes in the weather that has ever been recorded in this area. Almost no snow had been recorded in the region (1.6 inches at Buffalo) up until the days before Christmas, leaving everyone wondering if we would have a white Christmas at all.
By about December 22nd, forecasters began to see signs of a significant change in the large scale weather pattern across North America. Advanced computer models were showing a blocking pattern developing over Greenland at upper levels of the atmosphere, forcing an upper level, closed low to develop and strengthen over the Upper Great Lakes. Forecasters on the eastern Great Lakes are familiar with this synoptic pattern, because it is conducive to the heaviest lake effect snows in western and central New York.
The low was forecast to trap enough cold air from northern Canada to produce heavy lake snows. Even more alarming was the forecast that the upper low would move little, if any during the next week. This would produce more serious implications for the eastern lakes.
1. The pattern would mean that an extended period of lake effect snow was likely, possible for an entire week.. 2. The wind direction would remain the same for a long time, which would result in a band staying over one particular region for days at a time.
Forecasters were alarmed and excited at the same time. This storm had the potential to produce tremendous amounts of snow, and because the winds were forecast to be generally from a southwest direction, Buffalo, NY looked like it was going to be hit hard.
The storm could really be broken into two parts. The first portion of the extended event occurred on December 24-25th and mainly affected areas downwind of Lake Erie including metro Buffalo. The second part of the event brought a second punch to areas downwind of Lake Erie, and pummelled the snowbelts of Lake Ontario between Watertown and Syracuse.
Part I - Lake Erie
Multiple bands of lake snow developed well to the north over the Niagara peninsula during Monday (24th) morning and extended into Niagara and far northern Erie county into early afternoon and dropped up to 6". The activity consolidated into a single band during the mid afternoon and dropped slowly south across the metro area through the evening and diminished after midnight as it drifted south. The band was very intense during the evening with thunder and snowfall rates of 4" per hour. It hung near the airport longest.
Winds backed again on Christmas Day, the 25th, but the band was much weaker and pushed north across the area dropping another 1 to 3 inches before lifting way north by late Christmas evening. Some of this activity even reached Toronto Christmas night. The action pretty much shut off early Wednesday, but Part II of this epoch event was poised to develop later on Wednesday afternoon.
Amounts from Part I were in the range of 12 to 16 inches over a large portion of metro Buffalo and extended north to Grand Island and Lockport. Even Niagara Falls caught 8-10 inches. A small area of heaviest snow fell near the airport with 20-24 inches. The 25.2 inches was 3rd greatest 24 hour total ever at the Airport.
Part II - Lake Erie
By Wednesday, the 26th, the snowband began to redevelop over the Niagara Peninsula of nearby southern Ontario. The Niagara Peninsula was clobbered by heavy snowfall through the day. Wednesday evening, the band began its trek south toward metro Buffalo once again, the second lethal blow hit the metro area with 8 inches of snow in a 6 hour period of time. The band continued to wiggle and dance as it moved very slowly south to the immediate southtowns during the night and produced snowfall rates of 2 to 3 inches an hour over that region. By Thursday morning at 8AM the band had once again started north and through the next 6 to 7 hours heavy snow hit metro Buffalo again, the third lethal blow. In a 7 hour period of time about 18 inches of snow was recorded at the Buffalo airport. Then late in the afternoon the band decided to head south again and blasted the southtowns. The fourth and deciding blow occurred on the 28th, when in the wee hours of the morning the band struck once again. In the 6 hour period from 1AM to 7AM another 15.2 inches of snow fell, with another 7 inches occurring in a two hour period from 11AM to 1PM.
By the time the band headed south for the last time and bade farewell to Buffalo, 81.6 inches of snow had fallen at the airport and portions of the surrounding suburbs. The band had crossed the metro area no less than 6 times in a 5-day period of time! Our neighbors in southern Ontario reported as much as 60 inches of snow near Port Colborne.
Through the 29th and 31st a slight shift in the wind direction moved the snowband across the traditional snowbelts well south of Buffalo. Areas of southern Erie, Wyoming, northern Chautauqua and northern Cattaraugus counties saw over 5 feet of snow during the 3 day period of time. Ski areas were overjoyed!
The snow continued across the ski country through the morning of the 1st of January before a ridge aloft produced strong subsidence and the winds veered more to a NW direction.
Part I - Lake
The first part of the event on the 24th and 25th was limited to St. Lawrence and extreme northern Jefferson counties because the winds were out of a SSW direction. The large scale weather pattern which included the cut-off low over the Upper Great Lakes was too far west of the eastern shores of Lake Ontario to provide well organized snowbands. In fact, the highest snowfall totals were highest across Chaumont in northern Jefferson county. However, the traditional snowbelts over the Tug Hill Plateau reported very little snow.
Part II - Lake
During the night of the 26th and daytime hours of the 27th the snowband fired up again mainly across the northern parts of Jefferson county...north of Watertown. the snowband continued across the far northern portions of Jefferson county. Then on the 28th the band settled south across southern Jefferson and Lewis counties. Snowfall totals on the 28th were over 30 inches at Montague. Thunder and lightning were reported within the band that evening as snow fell at rates of 2 to 4 inches an hour. The winds remained out of generally a westerly direction...though small scale disturbances shifted the winds enough to make the band oscillate north and south across southern Jefferson and Lewis counties through the 30th, with Montague picking up another 4 feet of snow in a 24 hour period. By late on the afternoon of the 31st, the band narrowed and moved south into southern Lewis and northern Oswego counties. It continued through the early morning hours of the 1st before finally moving south and weakening.
Buffalo received tremendous press coverage during and after the storm both nationally and internationally. Many counties were declared Federal Disaster areas as a result of the prodigious snow amounts. Snow clearing operations in the city of Buffalo in particular became monumental tasks. Standard plows could not move the snow. Streets and even most driveways could only be cleared by Bobcats and front end loaders that put the snow into trucks to be dumped elsewhere. Snow clearing costs were very expensive as a result of the time, equipment and manpower involved. As the week progressed, the weight from the fallen snow became too much to bear for many low sloped roofs, porches and carports. There were several reports carports collapsing and one person died when a carport fell on him in Cheektowaga.
This was truly an event of epoch proportion. Because the storm produced so much snow over a metro area, it has to be classed as a 5-flake (*****) event. It could have been much worse though. To begin with, the storm occurred during the Christmas holiday break. Schools were closed and many businesses were as well. This limited the number of people who could have become stranded during the event. In addition, temperatures were not extremely cold during the event. Daytime highs each day were at least in the 20s. Also, the wind was not a factor through much of the event. Those two factors kept the wind chill from becoming dangerously cold. Finally, the storm was well warned in advance and there were almost no cancellation of activities. This storm will go down in local history as one of the top five along with the Blizzard of ‘77 and the November 20, 2000 lake effect event.
Final Snow Totals from our Spotters
STATEMENT...HOLIDAY STORM FINAL SNOWFALL TOTALS
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BUFFALO NY
400 PM EST TUE JAN 15 2002
THE MASSIVE LAKE EFFECT SNOWSTORM
OF DEC 24 THROUGH JAN 1 PRODUCED
AMOUNTS ARE SNOWFALL FOR THE PERIOD
DECEMBER 24 THROUGH JANUARY 1
...OFF LAKE ERIE...
...SOUTHERN ONTARIO CANADA...
...OFF LAKE ONTARIO...
...ST. LAWRENCE COUNTY...
WE WOULD LIKE TO THANKS ALL OF OUR
SNOWSPOTTERS FOR THEIR DEDICATION