Climatology of Lake-Effect Snowstorms of the Great Salt Lake

W. James Steenburgh NOAA Cooperative Institute for Regional Prediction and Department of Meteorology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Scott F. Halvorson NOAA Cooperative Institute for Regional Prediction and Department of Meteorology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Daryl J. Onton NOAA Cooperative Institute for Regional Prediction and Department of Meteorology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Abstract

Characteristics of lake-effect snowstorms associated with the Great Salt Lake are described. Using WSR-88D radar imagery, 16 well-defined and 18 marginal lake-effect events were identified from September 1994 through May 1998 (excluding June–August), with the former used for more detailed analysis. Precipitation during the well-defined events was frequently characterized by the irregular development of radar echoes over and downstream of the Great Salt Lake. The most commonly observed precipitation structures were solitary wind-parallel bands that developed along or near the major axis of the GSL and broad-area precipitation shields with embedded convective elements that formed near the southern shoreline.

Regional-scale composite analyses and rawinsonde-derived statistics showed that the lake-effect events occurred in post frontal westerly to northerly 700-hPa flow following the passage of an upper-level trough and associated low-level cold front. The lake-effect environment was characterized by limited steering layer (800–600 hPa) directional shear (generally 60° or less), moist- to dry-adiabatic low-level lapse rates, and small convective available potential energy (CAPE), although the CAPE may be locally greater over the Great Salt Lake. In all events, the lake–700-hPa temperature difference exceeded 16°C, which roughly corresponds to a dry-adiabatic lapse rate. The lake–land temperature difference was always positive and usually exceeded 6°C, indicating significant potential for the development of land-breeze circulations and associated low-level convergence over the lake. Radar-derived statistics suggest that lake enhancement is strongest during periods of northwesterly to northerly flow and large lake–land temperature differences. These characteristics are compared with those associated with lake-effect snowstorms of the Great Lakes and implications for operational forecasting are discussed.

Corresponding author address: Dr. W. James Steenburgh, Meteorology Dept., University of Utah, 135 S. 1460 E., Room 819, Salt Lake City, UT 84112.

Email: jimsteen@atmos.met.utah.edu

Abstract

Characteristics of lake-effect snowstorms associated with the Great Salt Lake are described. Using WSR-88D radar imagery, 16 well-defined and 18 marginal lake-effect events were identified from September 1994 through May 1998 (excluding June–August), with the former used for more detailed analysis. Precipitation during the well-defined events was frequently characterized by the irregular development of radar echoes over and downstream of the Great Salt Lake. The most commonly observed precipitation structures were solitary wind-parallel bands that developed along or near the major axis of the GSL and broad-area precipitation shields with embedded convective elements that formed near the southern shoreline.

Regional-scale composite analyses and rawinsonde-derived statistics showed that the lake-effect events occurred in post frontal westerly to northerly 700-hPa flow following the passage of an upper-level trough and associated low-level cold front. The lake-effect environment was characterized by limited steering layer (800–600 hPa) directional shear (generally 60° or less), moist- to dry-adiabatic low-level lapse rates, and small convective available potential energy (CAPE), although the CAPE may be locally greater over the Great Salt Lake. In all events, the lake–700-hPa temperature difference exceeded 16°C, which roughly corresponds to a dry-adiabatic lapse rate. The lake–land temperature difference was always positive and usually exceeded 6°C, indicating significant potential for the development of land-breeze circulations and associated low-level convergence over the lake. Radar-derived statistics suggest that lake enhancement is strongest during periods of northwesterly to northerly flow and large lake–land temperature differences. These characteristics are compared with those associated with lake-effect snowstorms of the Great Lakes and implications for operational forecasting are discussed.

Corresponding author address: Dr. W. James Steenburgh, Meteorology Dept., University of Utah, 135 S. 1460 E., Room 819, Salt Lake City, UT 84112.

Email: jimsteen@atmos.met.utah.edu

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