- Kimberly Miller Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
One of the most prolific and efficient snow-making machines on the planet cranked to life Christmas Eve, conjuring a winter storm for the history books in areas of the Northeast and Midwest as it lingered into its third day.
Lake-effect snow, generated when an arctic wind bellows over a long fetch of the warmer waters of the Great Lakes, buried Erie, Pa., in a record-shattering 65 inches of snow through Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service in Cleveland.
The previous multiday snow record in Erie was 52.8 inches that fell over 13 days in early 1999.
“It can be very localized, that’s the thing with lake-effect snow,” said Linda Lam, a digital meteorologist with Weather.com. “This is just one of those crazy times when all the ingredients came together to produce a snowfall in the Erie area that is just incredible.”
Erie’s 5 feet of snow is more snow in one event than some northern cities see all year on average, including Boston (43.5 inches), Minneapolis/St. Paul (53.4 inches) and Chicago (37.1 inches.)
“The amount is unusual,” Lam said about Erie’s accumulation. “But this is the time of year when we would look for the heavier lake-effect snow.”
The Christmas storm pushed a weak cold front through South Florida on Monday. As high pressure dominates the Northeast behind the yuletide tempest, peak temperatures Thursday in New York City will remain in the frigid 20s. Wind chill values of between 0 degrees and minus-5 were expected overnight into Thursday morning.
In the Washington area, the high Thursday is forecast to reach just 26 degrees, with an overnight low of 19. The normal daytime high in D.C. for this time of year is 44 degrees, with a low of 30 degrees.
Meteorologists in the New York City office of the National Weather Service ended their Wednesday forecast with two words: Stay warm!
Charlotte Steria, manager of the Steelhead Lodge on the Salmon River in Pulaski, N.Y., was hoping to return home Wednesday after three days marooned at work by heavy lake-effect snow off Lake Ontario.
“I can barely see the top of my car,” Steria said. “The weather here can change so quickly. Last night at 7 p.m. it wasn’t doing a thing, but by 8 o’clock this morning, we had 6 more inches on the ground.”
In nearby Redfield, N.Y., 30 inches of snow fell in a 24-hour period ending 7 a.m. Wednesday. The city of Oswego, on the western bank of Lake Ontario, declared a state of emergency Wednesday morning after a reported 20 inches of snow fell through 7 a.m. The 48-hour total was 62.2 inches, according to the NWS office in Buffalo, N.Y.
Lake effect snow usually trails a cold front and is most prevalent during the early winter months of December and January when the Great Lakes maintain some of their summertime warmth. When frigid arctic air blows over the warm water, it heats up and moistens, rising quickly into the atmosphere where it cools into clouds then condenses into snow.
For the Snow Ridge Ski Resort in Turin, N.Y., the lake effect snow glides over the Tug Hill Plateau to dump an annual average of 230 inches of snow, said resort owner Cynthia Sisto.
“We like these kinds of storms,” Sisto said Wednesday. “We got about 40 inches, if not more.”
Whether another widespread snowstorm will form this weekend is still uncertain, but meteorologists are forecasting a far-reaching blast of arctic air to plunge to the Gulf Coast on New Year’s Eve.
Cities as far south as Nashville and Atlanta will feel temperatures more than 20 degrees below what’s normal for this time of year. Times Square could be as cold as 11 degrees Sunday night, New Year’s Eve.
“People will need to bundle up with all their winter gear in order to stay warm,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Pydynowski.
Forecast models were still in disagreement Wednesday about what kind of chill South Florida may feel from the cold blast. The official forecast calls for a cool down Monday night to 58 degrees with a high Wednesday of just 67 in West Palm Beach.
“That’s a heat wave up here,” said Steelhead Lodge manager Charlotte Steria about the potential South Florida winter nip. “I don’t even know if we get to that over the summer.”