Trend Reversal in Lake Michigan Contribution to Snowfall

Luke Bard Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, and Center for Atmospheric Science, Division of State Water Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Champaign, Illinois

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David A. R. Kristovich Center for Atmospheric Science, Division of State Water Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Champaign, and Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, Illinois

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Abstract

One of the most notable ways the Laurentian Great Lakes impact the region’s climate is by augmenting snowfall in downwind locations during autumn and winter months. Among many negative consequences, this surplus of snow can cause substantial property damage to homes and can escalate the number of traffic accident–related injuries and fatalities. The consensus among several previous studies is that lake-effect snowfall increased during the twentieth century in various locations in the Great Lakes region. The goal of this study is to better understand variability and long-term trends in Lake Michigan’s lake-contribution snowfall (LCS). LCS accounts for both lake-effect and lake-enhanced events. In addition, this study updates findings from previous investigations using snowfall observations found by a recent study to be appropriate for climate studies. It is demonstrated that considerable variability exists in 5-yr periods of LCS east and south of Lake Michigan from 1920 to 2005. A general increase in LCS from the early 1920s to the 1950–80 period at locations typically downwind of the lake was found. Thereafter, LCS decreased through the early 2000s, indicating a distinct trend reversal that is not reported by earlier studies. The reasons for this reversal are unclear. The reversal is consistent with observed increasing minimum temperatures during winter months after the 1970s, however.

Corresponding author address: David Kristovich, Center for Atmospheric Science, Division of State Water Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, 2204 Griffith Dr., Champaign, IL 61820. E-mail: dkristo@illinois.edu

Abstract

One of the most notable ways the Laurentian Great Lakes impact the region’s climate is by augmenting snowfall in downwind locations during autumn and winter months. Among many negative consequences, this surplus of snow can cause substantial property damage to homes and can escalate the number of traffic accident–related injuries and fatalities. The consensus among several previous studies is that lake-effect snowfall increased during the twentieth century in various locations in the Great Lakes region. The goal of this study is to better understand variability and long-term trends in Lake Michigan’s lake-contribution snowfall (LCS). LCS accounts for both lake-effect and lake-enhanced events. In addition, this study updates findings from previous investigations using snowfall observations found by a recent study to be appropriate for climate studies. It is demonstrated that considerable variability exists in 5-yr periods of LCS east and south of Lake Michigan from 1920 to 2005. A general increase in LCS from the early 1920s to the 1950–80 period at locations typically downwind of the lake was found. Thereafter, LCS decreased through the early 2000s, indicating a distinct trend reversal that is not reported by earlier studies. The reasons for this reversal are unclear. The reversal is consistent with observed increasing minimum temperatures during winter months after the 1970s, however.

Corresponding author address: David Kristovich, Center for Atmospheric Science, Division of State Water Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, 2204 Griffith Dr., Champaign, IL 61820. E-mail: dkristo@illinois.edu
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