Activity: Examining the Lake Effect

Summary: Students examine lake effect snow in the Great Lakes region, including how to forecast lake effect snow, where it might occur, and what effects it may have on the people of an area.

You Need:


As a whole class, explore a map of the Great Lakes region.

  • Distribute copies of (or project to class) snowfall and snow belt maps.
  • Ask students to brainstorm how the temperature difference between the land and the water might affect snowfalls along the lake edge.
  • Compare the snowfall and snow belt maps to a map of the Great Lakes region to answer questions found throughout the rest of the activity.

Part 1

Estimate the average snowfall in the following places:

  • Erie, Pennsylvania: 60 inches (152 centimeters)
  • Toronto, Ontario: 60 inches (152 centimeters)
  • Calumet, Michigan (Upper Peninsula): 160 inches (406 centimeters)
  • Peterborough, Ontario (north of Lake Ontario): 60-80 inches (152-203 centimeters)
  • Boonville, New York (east end of Lake Ontario): 130-160 inches (330-406 centimeters)
  • Mancelona, Michigan: 120 inches (305 centimeters)
  • Toledo, Ohio: 20-40 inches (51-102 centimeters)

Part 2

Using the snowfall map:

  • Tape strips of masking tape on the wall to represent each of the snow depths as they appear on the map. Label the strips of tape 20 inches, 40 inches, 60 inches, 80 inches, 100 inches, 120 inches, 140 inches and 160 inches (or metric equivalents) and place the labels at appropriate heights on the wall using the ceiling if necessary.
  • Working in small groups, students add the names of cities and towns (including their own area) to the appropriate average snowfall level on the wall or ceiling.

Part 3

  • As a whole class, discuss causes of lake effect snowstorms and clues for predicting lake effect snowstorms.
  • Students complete data sheet.
  • As a whole class, discuss data sheet answers and the impact of heavy snowfalls on people who live in snow belt communities.

Questions to Consider:

  • What kinds of businesses profit from snowstorms?
  • What kinds of businesses lose money because of snowstorms?
  • What do you think might be the consequences of lake effect snowstorms caused by city and industry pollution?
  • What kinds of food crops can be grown in snow belt areas? Search for agricultural resource maps. North latitude will also have an effect.
  • What do you suppose the Indians and fur traders did when they lived in these snow belt areas before snowplows, furnaces and international food transportation?
  • What kinds of things do you do in snowstorms that are different from what you do on a sunny day in May?
  • What is “good” weather? What is “bad” weather?
  • What difference does it make when the weather is bad? Is good?
  • Have you ever heard someone predicting the weather with a rhyme? Such as: ‘Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning?’
  • What kinds of information do people use in predicting the weather? How would you find out which kinds of information are most helpful? Least helpful?