Maria Quinlan Leiby, Michigan Historical MuseumLook01
Winter tools on display in the new Lake Effects exhibit.
Most Michigan residents have heard of lake effect snow, the localized, often intense snows that occur downwind of the Great Lakes. Few other places in the world have the right geographic factors to cause such snows, but they are common from the Western Upper Peninsula to Upstate New York.
How We Get Lake Effect Snow
The amount of snow that falls along the lakeshore depends on several factors. The greater the temperature difference between the air and water, the more moisture the air takes on—moisture that can then become snow. The distance air travels across a particular lake also determines the amount of moisture it acquires. A west wind crossing Lake Michigan blows across fewer miles of water to reach Muskegon or Holland than does a north-northwest wind. Greater elevation near the coast, as we see in Leelanau County or on the Keweenaw Peninsula, also increases snowfall.
When are you most likely to run into lake effect snow? Large bodies of water change temperature more slowly than the land that borders them. In fall, the Great Lakes hold their summer heat as colder winds sweep over them, producing not only the gales of November, but also lake effect snows in late November and December. By mid-late January, the water has cooled enough and usually enough ice has formed for lake effect snows to diminish.
Lake Effects Weather Exhibit
Calumet’s Lakeview Cemetery gets a lot of snow—from both the lake effect and ordinary snowstorms. Workers there used this scoop (See photo on left) to clear snow in the 1950s. Charles Stetter, former principal of the local high school, recalled shop classes producing scoops such as this one, which has “a wooden frame with a sheet metal bottom and wooden handles bolted to the bottom frame at an angle that would be suitable for easy pushing.”