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As the wind blows: Why a massive winter blast in New York state gave Ontario a pass

As a winter storm hits parts of western New York state, those living in southern Ontario might wonder why it isn’t making its way up north.

It all comes down to how the wind blows, says Global News’ chief meteorologist, Anthony Farnell.

“It has everything to do with that wind direction and what side of the lake you are on,” Farnell said Monday, explaining the Buffalo area is part of a snowbelt that gets hit when winds blow west or southwesterly over Lake Ontario.

It means a storm like the one that hit Buffalo on the weekend, postponing an NFL playoff game and burying parts of the city under feet of snow, are essentially localized, and those who live on the other side of the lake aren’t usually going to be affected.

Snowbelts around the Great Lakes. glisa.umich.edu

Unless the wind changes.

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But Environment Canada meteorologist Geoff Colson says winds blowing the other way over Lake Ontario are rare, meaning most of the northern and western shores don’t see the same heavy snow falls caused by lake-effect.

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“Places like Oshawa, Toronto, Burlington, Oakville, that wind direction doesn’t occur often,” he explained.

“So we don’t tend to be considered a snowbelt because we just don’t get big amounts from lake effect snow.”

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But not all of southern Ontario is so lucky.

Kingston and parts of Prince Edward County are included in the same snowbelt that brings storms to the Buffalo area, Colson says, meaning a slight change in wind direction over the lake can see that area get hit just as hard by winter weather.

“One of the stronger lake effect events that we can get in Kingston and Gananoque sees a wind from the southwest, literally comes across Lake Ontario, right up the Saint Lawrence,” Colson says, adding bad weather in the area can be a real hazard on Highway 401.

“People can be driving from Toronto and it’s sunny and it’s sunny up to Trenton, and there’s still no problems until suddenly you get to Kingston and it’s a whiteout.

“It’s again localized bands of snow driven by what the low level winds are doing. ”

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Farnell says the mild weather seen through December has left the Great Lakes with no ice and that means snow belt areas are having an especially bad time with snow as arctic air moves over the open waters. He says the areas  can expect to see heavy snows continuing until the lakes freeze up.

But the Great Lakes aren’t all bad news when it comes to winter weather, Farnell says.

As extreme cold blankets much of the prairies Farnell says it’s the lakes that protect southern Ontario from the freezing temperatures.

“It’s cold here but not the extremes that we’re seeing in the prairies,” he said.

“Those lakes, yes they often lead to lake effect snow and all sorts of travel headaches but they also can buffer and protect us from the brutal cold out west.

“As that air flows over the water it tends to moderate, so there is a positive to all of this.”

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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