Lake effect surprise and light snow heads our way

What a humbling day to be a weather forecaster. Lake Michigan never ceases to amaze me. I had snow flurries in the forecast today with a light ESE wind. Much to my chagrin, a lake-effect snow band developed in the middle of the lake and moved right over Milwaukee, Ozaukee, and Washington counties. The biggest total has been 2.2″ in Cedarburg. Not a lot of snow, but certainly not flurries. Flurries by definition do not accumulate.

So what happened? Normally, an east or southeast wind does not bring much if any accumulating snow. The temperatures aloft were just enough to support the formation of lake snow and I thought the smaller fetch (amount of area from one side of lake to the other) would keep the snow to just flurries. Here is a look from the radar at 1:06  this afternoon.

One slow-moving band from about 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM brought the snow. The National Weather Service was talking about a meso-low over the lake, but I was very hard pressed to find this on radar or satellite. A meso-low is a very small-scale low pressure center. These often form over the lake, but I could not find anything but anti-cyclonic (clockwise) rotation over the lake today. Here is the satellite pic from the middle of the afternoon.

You can pick out the snow band, but a meso-low usually has a pretty easily distinguished twirl signature. This did not. Just one of those surprises that are almost impossible to forecast.

Now let’s focus on the general snowfall that will move in tonight and last for much of Tuesday. We are on the northern fringe of the storm that will track across the Ohio Valley. Here is the radar image from 7:45 tonight.

It looks like it is already snowing in our area, but much of that snow is aloft and is hitting drier air. I believe the light snow will develop around midnight and we could have an inch on the ground by the morning rush hour. Another one to three inches are possible during the day before tapering quickly on Tuesday evening. The lowest amounts, around one inch will occur in our NW counties. The heaviest snow, around four inches, will fall near Lake Michigan. There will be lake enhancement of the snow there adding to the totals. Not a heavy snow, it will just last a long time.

Thanks for reading. Have a great night.



10 Responses

  1. I was literally right on the border of this event in New Berlin as there was a period of about twenty minutes where huge flakes were falling at the same time that the sun was shining into my south facing windows. The snow tried to accumulate, but it lost the battle against the sun.

    • Daniel,

      You have to love lake effect.


      • A co-worker of mine was in MKE today. He told me it was snowing heavily on his ride back to Neenah which took place around 2pm.

        Mark, just missing that LES forecast is more than acceptable. Thanks for sharing the experience.

        Daniel G, did you snap any photographs during your time on the edge of the snow bands?

  2. Mark – better you than me. LOL. We get enough “mix” storms where humility is provided nearly once a month. Ha!

    • The first snowfall of the winter in KC today? One day earlier and it may have helped the Chiefs yesterday. I recall Gary’s snowfall forecast predicting some where around 13″ for the winter in KC, over half way there! A pretty darn good call on that one. Impressive.

    • It’s always a learning process. That’s why I love it. Every day is different.


  3. It looked like a snow globe for a while in Downtown Milwaukee this afternoon. Gently falling snow with little wind. About 1.5 inches on Milwaukee’s far northwest side.

    • Patrick,

      Light lake effect snows when there is very little wind is quite beautiful. Thanks for the report and nice description.


  4. Mark, Muskego didn’t see any lake effect snow today, unfortunately. Also, most of our snow melted today. We were below 32 all day so how did that happen? Also, how’s that weekend storm shaping up?

    • Bryan,

      The sun’s radiation still makes it through the cloud cover and warms the surface. That is why the snow melted.

      The snow on Saturday could be another 2″-4″.

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