Lake Effect Summary - January 31 - February 2, 2013

Maximum Snowfall: Lake Ontario 21" (Parkers, NY); Lake Erie 28" (Delevan, NY)

Duration: 3 days +/-

Prime features: The Lake Erie snow band brought the season's first significant lake effect snows for northern portions of Metro Buffalo. The Lake Ontario band had an impressive inland extent, reaching all the way across northern New York into Vermont.

On the evening of Thursday January 30th, a rapidly deepening storm system moved eastward from Lake Huron, tracking north of Lake Ontario to southwestern Quebec. A strong cold front which extended south of the center of the storm shifted across New York State, which brought strong winds and a sharp drop in temperatures. Wind gusts of 59 mph were observed at Buffalo, Rochester and Watertown just behind the cold front. Temperatures hit the mid 60s on Wednesday, then fell off sharply behind the front through the 40s to the 30s and 20s by Thursday morning. Behind this storm system, from Thursday through Saturday (Groundhog Day), a strong surface high pressure area built into the Northern Plains from the Canadian Prairies then tracked across the Central Plains to the southeastern states. This helped keep a westerly flow of very cold air moving over the still unfrozen Great Lakes which triggered lake effect snows downwind of both lakes.

Off Lake Erie, a narrow but intense band of lake effect snow developed late Thursday morning across Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties, which for a time reached as far east as Steuben County. By the afternoon the winds backed to west-southwest and the band lifted north bringing lake snows into southern Erie and Wyoming Counties. Early Friday morning, an upper level shortwave trough shifted across the region as surface high pressure dipped into the Central Plains. This shifted the snow band back south under a northwest flow. The shorter fetch produced multi-band lake effect over Ski Country east of the lake. The lake effect remained fairly disorganized through much of Friday until late Friday evening when the approach of another upper level shortwave and weak surface low reorganized the lake effect into an intense single band. This helped to steer the lake band back north where it reached the Buffalo Southtowns near midnight Friday. Early Saturday morning the band lifted further north over Metro Buffalo then into the Northtowns. A brief shift to the south brought a second round of snow back over the city center, then back north again to the Northtowns overnight. Snowfall rates varied from one to as much as three inches of snow per hour. This southwest to northeast oriented snow band brought northern Erie County its first significant lake effect snow for this winter season. Through much of Saturday the band settled over Grand Island and southern Niagara County where snow piled up over a foot in spots. Finally the upper level shortwave passed to the east of the lakes. This caused snow bands to sag south and break up over Erie County through the overnight.

The greatest snow totals off Lake Erie fell across the Southern Tier where narrow but intense bands of snow brought localized amounts of over two feet of snow. Significant snows over one foot also fell across Grand Island and southern Niagara County. Much of the Greater Buffalo area had a large gradient in snow totals ranging from 3 inches to around a foot due to the transient nature of the band on Saturday morning.

Off Lake Ontario, disorganized lake snows following the cold frontal passage organized into a narrow but intense band of snow over southern Jefferson County by Thursday afternoon as winds aligned down the long axis of the lake. This band then sagged south across central Oswego County by evening where an upstream moisture connection with Lakes Superior and Huron helped the snow band extend well inland east of the lake were snow fell as far as central and southern Vermont! Snowfall rates of up to 2 inches per hour were observed on the Montague weather radar. By Friday morning, the lake band began to push south over the southern shore of Lake Ontario as the surface high shifted south over the Central Plains and the axis of the upper level trough passed east of New York. This allowed for a northwest flow over the western end of the lake with heavy lake snows falling from Niagara County east along the southern lakeshore to Wayne County. Visibilities dropped to 1/2 mile or lower and multiple accidents were reported on I-190 in Niagara County and across Metro Rochester during the morning rush hour. Through much of the rest of Friday, disorganized multi bands brought scattered lake snows to counties south of the western end of the lake. By Friday evening an approaching upper level shortwave trough helped to re-intensify the band with additional forcing. The band lifted north from the southeastern corner of the lake to Jefferson County by Saturday morning with heavy snow for the Watertown area. Some of the highest snowfall rates of this event were observed Saturday evening across northern Jefferson County. Three to four inches per hour occurred as the Ontario band picked up extra moisture from the Lake Erie band which extended into the western end of Lake Ontario. As this upper level shortwave passed overhead and east of the area, the band shifted back south and fell apart over northern Oswego County early Sunday.

The greatest snow totals off Lake Ontario fell during two periods. The first was Thursday afternoon and night where 6 to as much as 21 inches were measured in central Oswego and southern Lewis Counties. The second period was Saturday evening across northern Jefferson County where 8 to 16 inches were observed.

This storm had some very impressive snowfall rates with snow bands extending well inland at times due to a nice connection with upstream lakes. Snowfall totals were not overly impressive for a three day event, mainly due to the transient nature of the bands. This also created some travel impacts during the Friday morning rush hour and again on Saturday when many residents take to the streets for shopping. This storm therefore earns 3 ***  stars.

Here are some representative reports. 

Off of Lake Erie...

Location Snowfall
Delevan 28 inches
Perrysburg 24 inches
West Valley 21 inches
Sardinia 19 inches
Warsaw 15.6 inches
Grand Island 15 inches
Sanborn 13 inches

Off of Lake Ontario...

Location Snowfall
Parkers 21 inches
West Leyden 15 inches
Clayton 14.5 inches
Constableville 13.7 inches
Fulton 11 inches
Oswego 10.8 inches

Click image below for Hourly Radar Loop of Base Reflectivity

7pm Thurs Jan 31 to 1am Sun Feb 03, 2013 (14 MB)

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Page last modified: December 17, 2013
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