Rochester, N.Y. (WROC) — For those who have weathered more than a few winters in Western New York you likely know “Lake Effect” can mean many different types of conditions and look quite different each time it happens. One lesser talked about type, in part due to it’s atypical formation, is called “Tea Kettle Lake Effect”.
There is no real reason why this type of lake effect event is called “tea kettle” to the best anyone has been able to find. If you’re thinking the process might be something like putting on a kettle to boil, we don’t have good news for you.
Much like during the summer, in the cool seasons, fall and winter, we see lake and land breezes set up. Usually under areas of high pressure which is key to getting this style of lake effect snow.
Ingredient 1: The Land Breeze
During the fall and winter, the land near Lake Ontario is often much cooler than the lake itself. As air warms and rises off the lake, cool air from the land rushes in to fill that void. Along the edge of the land breeze a quasi-cold front forms as the dome of cool air at the surface pushes under the warm lake air.
Ingredient 2: Cold air aloft
Like any lake effect event we do need decently cold air above our heads to help prod things along. The larger the difference between the air at the lakes surface and the air aloft the more instability or lift can be generated, which will help take moisture from the surface higher up fueling any clouds or precipitation that might form.
Ingredient 3: A converging wind
The final ingredient for this odd phenomena is a surface wind headed the opposite direction of the land breeze. Where these two meet a secondary area of lift is created when the “warm” air from the lake is pushed up and over the encroaching dome of “cold” air coming off the land. In an ideal situation the strength of the land breeze and the surface wind headed from the opposite direction are equal in strength so that one doesn’t overpower the other.
This can create nearly stationary areas of lake effect, rain, snow, sleet, graupel, etc. That occur almost exclusively along the lake shore and just inland. Sometimes if winds are a bit stronger higher up it can push the lake effect further inland in a band the will parallel the lake shore.
For adventurous, you can read a detailed study done on this type of lake effect back in the 1990’s from which the basic tenants of this blog are derived.