ASK TOM: If the Great Lakes completely froze over, would that stop the lake-effect snow machine?

Dear Tom,

If the Great Lakes completely froze over, would that stop the lake-effect snow machine?

— Chris Wells, Vernon Hills
Dear Chris,

It would indeed. A frozen lake would act as nothing more than snow-and-ice-covered ground and would effectively cut off the formation of any lake-effect snow. Lake-effect snow develops when moisture from the open lake water is evaporated into the cold air mass passing over it and cooled to condensation, forming clouds and snow. This evaporation would cease if the lake were frozen. Most of the Great Lakes do not freeze except in the severest of winters, but Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, (less than 100 feet deep in many areas) usually becomes more than 80 percent covered in ice, drastically reducing the amount of lake-effect snow in late winter for cities such as Buffalo, Erie and Cleveland.

3 thoughts on “ASK TOM: If the Great Lakes completely froze over, would that stop the lake-effect snow machine?

  1. I have lived about 37 years in Algoma and remember much colder winters than during the last twenty years until this year.
    But I seem to recall only once about 25+-5 or so years ago
    that it was stated that for the first time in recorded Hx Lake Superior was 1OO% frozen over.
    But that of course must be relative and strictly speaking wrong
    as there are spots such as the narrows between Batchawana Island and the mainland where it never freezes over due to the very strong current as many rivers running into Batchawana Bay exit through these narrows. It is possible that there might be a very thin temporary ice or snow cover after a major freeze or snowstorm which actually caused the death of a few snowmobilers who ought to have known better than assume that the whiteout meant safe ice thickness. It was nighttime and they were probably drunk as well. So instead of driving where there is assured ice and snow cover they took a foolish chance and drowned as there was either no ice or if there was any it was paper thin.
    Actually I don’t understand this as I have seen what I still cant believe idiots driving over clear water as they rev up their snow machines and cross open river water. Later I heard that this is actually a sport in Quebec much like the lunacy of avalanche provoking snowmachine running down the Rockies in BC, in Quebec they actually race snowmobiles in the summer on lakes.
    So if it is possible to stay afloat on water then why couldn’t those poor buggers cross the current thinned Batchawana narrows?
    So all in all even if Lake Superior seems to be 1OO% frozen over it is not safe.
    I remember ice fishing in Haviland Bay and a South African came to marvel at it but he had an Alaskan huskie and while I crossed the ice on snowshoes and the owner on foot the husky refused to set foot on the ice. I figured it must judge the ice unsafe or was just a cowardly dog. One would expect a husky to know all about ice and snow.
    So I wouldn’t trust the lake ice.
    Once a neighbor took a backhoe or a bulldozer to prepare what else an ice hockey rink on the lake when it was a very cold winter and he went through the ice with his bulldozer.
    But he didn’t drown but died from fright of an MI.

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