Assessment of potential effects of climate change on heavy lake-effect snowstorms near Lake Erie

Kenneth E. Kunkel, Nancy E. Westcott, David A.R. Kristovich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The potential effects of future climate change on the frequency of heavy lake-effect snowstorms in the Lake Erie snowbelt were assessed using recent transient simulations from two General Circulation Models (GCMs): the second-generation Hadley Centre (HadCM2) and the first generation Canadian Climate Centre (CGCM1) coupled ocean-atmosphere models. An analysis of historical heavy lake-effect snowstorms identified six weather conditions to be closely related to heavy lake-effect snowstorm occurrence: surface wind speed > 6 m/s, surface wind direction of south southwest to west northwest, surface air temperature in the range of -10°C to 0°C, lake surface to air temperature difference > 7°C, lower tropospheric stability (T lake - 850 > 15°C) and a highly amplified middle tropospheric wave train. These criteria were applied to daily grid point data from the GCMs for two periods, the late 20th Century and the late 21st Century, to determine the relative frequency with which heavy lake-effect conditions were predicted. Surface conditions favorable for heavy lake-effect snow decreased in frequency by 50% and 90% for the HadCM2 and CGCM1, respectively, by the late 21st Century. This reduction was due almost entirely to a decrease in the number of occurrences of surface air temperature in the range of -10 to 0°C, which in turn was the result of an increase in average winter air temperatures. Other surface conditions favorable for lake-effect snow occurred at about the same frequency in the late 21st Century as in the late 20th Century, suggesting that lake-effect rain events may replace lake-effect snow events. Changes in the middle tropospheric wave train were also noted in both models. However, there were sizable biases in the simulation of the present-day climate, raising questions about the validity of the future projections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)521-536
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002


  • Climate change
  • Lake Erie
  • Lake-effect
  • Snow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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