Convective evolution across Lake Michigan during a widespread lake-effect snow event

David A.R. Kristovich, Neil F. Laird, Mark R. Hjelmfelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lake-effect snowstorms generally develop within convective boundary layers, which are induced when cold air flows over relatively warm lakes in fall and winter. Mesoscale circulations within the boundary layers largely control which communities near the downwind shores of the lakes receive the most intense snow. The lack of quantitative observations over the lakes during lake-effect storms limits the ability to fully understand and predict these mesoscale circulations. This study provides the first observations of the concurrent spatial and temporal evolution of the thermodynamic and microphysical boundary layer structure and mesoscale convective patterns across Lake Michigan during an intense lake-effect event. Observations analyzed in this study were taken during the Lake-Induced Convection Experiment (Lake-ICE). Aircraft and sounding observations indicate that the lake-effect snows of 13 January 1998 developed within a convective boundary layer that grew rapidly across Lake Michigan. Boundary layer clouds developed within 15 km and snow developed within 30 km of the upwind (western) shoreline. Near the downwind shore, cloud cover was extensive and snow nearly filled the boundary layer. Extensive sea smoke in the surface layer, with disorganized (or cellular) and linear features, was observed visually across the entire lake. Over portions of northern Lake Michigan, where airborne dual-Doppler radar observations were obtained, the mesoscale circulation structure remained disorganized (random or cellular) across the lake. Given observed shear and stability conditions in this region, this structure is consistent with past theoretical and numerical modeling results. To the south, where surface winds were slightly stronger and lake-air temperature differences were less, wind-parallel bands indicative of rolls were often present. The horizontal scale of the observed mesoscale convective structures grew across Lake Michigan, in agreement with most previous studies, but less rapidly than the increase of the boundary layer depth. The decreasing ratio of convective horizontal size to boundary layer depth (aspect ratio) is contrary to many recent studies that found a positive correlation between boundary layer depth and aspect ratio.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)643-655
Number of pages13
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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