How Lake Sakakawea Makes Its Own Weather

Weather Whys

When you think of lake effect snow you probably associate it with areas around the Great Lakes and not so much with North Dakota.

Lake effect snow can be a game-changer in other parts of the country, dumping feet of snow from a single snow band. We see lake effect snow here in North Dakota but not to the extent folks around the Great Lakes see it.

Here are the ingredients needed for lake effect snow:

First, we need a lake that isn’t frozen over. You can’t get lake effect show with a frozen lake. In our case, Lake Sakakawea was in the 40s. Then we need a very cold air mass over the warm water. We certainly had that on Monday (11/11) with a large arctic air mass. The bigger the temperature difference between the water and the air, the better.

This arctic air then glides over the lake. The warmer air near the surface of the water rises and forms clouds. All that moisture aids in snow development as it moves on land.

If you’re wondering about a high end snow total from lake effect snow here in North Dakota, a good case study is from December 2nd, 2009. We got roughly three inches just north of Bismarck which caused several accidents that day. There were 14 in total around the Bismark/Mandan area. While lake effect snow is rare here, it can be impactful.

We mostly see lake effect snow this time of year since the lake isn’t frozen yet and cold air repeatedly moves in from the north.

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