Lake Michigan Lake Breezes: Climatology, local forcing, and Synoptic environment

N. F. Laird, D. A.R. Kristovich, X. Z. Liang, R. W. Arritt, K. Labas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A method was developed to identify the occurrence of lake-breeze events along the eastern, western, and both shores of Lake Michigan during a 15-yr period (1982-96). Comparison with detailed observations from May through September of 1996-97 showed that the method reasonably identified Lake Michigan lake-breeze events. The method also demonstrated the important ability to distinguish non-lake-breeze events; a problem experienced by previously developed lake-breeze criteria. Analyses of the 15-yr climatological data indicated that lake breezes tended to occur more frequently along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan than along the western shore. On average, a maximum number of lake-breeze events occurred during August at each location. This maximum is most closely associated with weaker monthly average wind speeds. Even though the air-lake temperature difference ΔT provides the local forcing for the development of the lake-breeze circulation, large temperature differences are not required. Nearly 70% of all events occurred with a daytime maximum ΔT ≤12°C. The evaluation of a lake-breeze index ε used in past studies and many forecasting applications showed indices computed using offshore or shore-perpendicular wind speeds (U or U, respectively) at inland sites resolved ≥95% of identified events based on critical ε values of 2-6. When wind speed, irrespective of wind direction, was used to calculate ε, the success of the critical indices decreased by as much as 26%. Results also showed that the lake-breeze index has a considerable tendency to overestimate the number of events. Although the possibility was suggested by previous investigations, the critical value of ε may not be appreciably affected by changes in location along the shoreline. In addition, noteworthy differences in the position of synoptic-scale sea level pressure and wind fields with respect to Lake Michigan were found to occur during eastern, western, and both-shore lake-breeze events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-424
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Applied Meteorology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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