Lake-effect thunderstorms in the lower great lakes

Scott M. Steiger, Robert Hamilton, Jason Keeler, Richard E. Orville

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning, radar, and radiosonde data were examined to determine how frequently lake-effect storms (rain/snow) with lightning occurred over and near the lower Great Lakes region (Lakes Erie and Ontario) from September 1995 through March 2007. On average, lake-effect lightning occurred on 7.9 days and with 5.8 storm events during a particular cool season (September-March). The CG lightning with these storms had little inland extent and was usually limited to a few flashes per storm. Some storms had considerably more, with the most intense storm (based on National Lightning Detection Network observations) producing 1551 CG flashes over a 4-day period. Thundersnow events were examined in more detail because of the rarity of this phenomenon across the United States. Most lake-effect thundersnow events (75%) occurred in November and December. An analysis of model sounding data using the Buffalo Toolkit for Lake Effect Snow (BUFKIT) software package in which lower boundary conditions can be modified by lake surfaces showed that thundersnow events had an 82% increase in the mean height of the -10°C level when compared with nonelectrified lake-effect snowstorms (1.2 vs 0.7 km AGL), had higher lake-induced equilibrium levels (EL; above 3.6 km AGL) and convective available potential energy (CAPE;.500 J kg-1), had low wind shear environments, and were intense, single-band storms. A nomogram of the altitude of the -10°C isotherm and EL proved to be useful in predicting lake-effect thundersnowstorms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)889-902
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2009


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