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Sensitivity of Lake-Effect Snowfall to Lake Ice Cover and Temperature in the Great Lakes Region

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  • 1 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, Michigan
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Abstract

High-resolution Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) simulations are used to explore the sensitivity of Great Lakes lake-effect snowfall (LES) to changes in lake ice cover and surface temperature. A control simulation with observed ice cover is compared with three sensitivity tests: complete ice cover, no lake ice, and warmer lake surface temperatures. The spatial pattern of unfrozen lake surfaces determines the placement of LES, and complete ice cover eliminates it. Removal of ice cover and an increase in lake temperatures result in an expansion of the LES area both along and downwind of the lake shore, as well as an increase in snowfall amount. While lake temperatures and phase determine the amount and spatial coverage of LES, the finescale distribution of LES is strongly affected by the interaction between lake surface fluxes, the large-scale flow, and the local lake shore geography and inland topography. As a consequence, the sensitivity of LES to topography and shore geometry differs for lakes with short versus long overwater fetch. These simulations indicate that coarse-resolution models may be able to realistically reproduce the gross features of LES in future climates, but will miss the important local-scale interactions that determine the location and intensity of LES.

Corresponding author address: Derek J. Posselt, Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2455 Hayward St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2143. E-mail: dposselt@umich.edu

Abstract

High-resolution Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) simulations are used to explore the sensitivity of Great Lakes lake-effect snowfall (LES) to changes in lake ice cover and surface temperature. A control simulation with observed ice cover is compared with three sensitivity tests: complete ice cover, no lake ice, and warmer lake surface temperatures. The spatial pattern of unfrozen lake surfaces determines the placement of LES, and complete ice cover eliminates it. Removal of ice cover and an increase in lake temperatures result in an expansion of the LES area both along and downwind of the lake shore, as well as an increase in snowfall amount. While lake temperatures and phase determine the amount and spatial coverage of LES, the finescale distribution of LES is strongly affected by the interaction between lake surface fluxes, the large-scale flow, and the local lake shore geography and inland topography. As a consequence, the sensitivity of LES to topography and shore geometry differs for lakes with short versus long overwater fetch. These simulations indicate that coarse-resolution models may be able to realistically reproduce the gross features of LES in future climates, but will miss the important local-scale interactions that determine the location and intensity of LES.

Corresponding author address: Derek J. Posselt, Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2455 Hayward St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2143. E-mail: dposselt@umich.edu
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