Snow Squall Chasing?

Feb 11, 2006
Vaughan, Ontario, Canada
Oh I hope no one laughs :D

Does anyone here venture out into the snow?

During the off season one of the weather events I love are snow squalls, anything from frontal squalls to lake effect squalls I find are great!

The most dramatic squall I have ever seen was probably the one off of Lake Erie which affected Buffalo/Ft.Erie back in October. I hade work + school earlier in the day and did not actually get out chasing until about 10PM. The weirdest thing was the last 8 miles before driving into the snow. Usually there is traffic heading the opposite way just covered in snow but there was absolutely no one nor anything. No cars, police, trucks or snow removal equipment. There was also the constant flicker of lightning which while is not uncommon just added to the eerie effect of driving into darkness waiting to hit a wall of snow. The snow rates within the squall were pretty dramatic, possibly some of the highest I have seen. Snow rates at times were between 4 and 6 inches per hour. The saving grace for keeping visibility above 5 feet was the temperature which was around freezing, to slightly above. The damage I encountered along the way was also spectacular, ranging from power lines and trees to full out transformer blow outs. Things you would expect with an ice storm or strong winds, but not from a snow squall. I guess that goes to show what 1 - 2 feet of wet snow will do.

Squalls are my favourite weather, but synoptic storms are also great fun. The only thing is, you can't really chase a synoptic snow or ice storm. At least with a snow squall I can come home to relatively dry/bare roads after the chase and not have to worry with the driveway.

These are some of the chases I have been pulling out of the archives. I have tons of logs/video to get online but there is some stuff there now. The website is still in overhaul mode.

Tom (loving the snow!)
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I don’t like to admit things like this, but I guess that I am in good company…

During the first of the Colorado blizzards, I bundled up and went outside as soon as the snow stopped at about three o’clock in the morning. I took my tripod and camera out to see what kind of shots I could get. Some turned out pretty well, but I still use my 35mm SLR and I haven’t scanned any pictures to post. I was amazed how silent everything was; it was very surreal. Rarely will I go out for snow, but I wanted to see what everything looked right when the storm ended, before the snow was touched. I walked around the block with snow well above my knees, and higher in the drifts, looking for a place to take some long exposures. I then decided that it was too damn cold, and stayed inside for the next two days.
Actually, I think this is far more common that many might think, especially in those areas that don't get snow very often.

In Texas, especially the eastern section where I live now, measurable snow is a once every few years occurrence, and often the rain/snow line is tantalizingly close, but too far north.

On several occasions I have hopped in the car just to go see a few flakes. It also gives me a chance to see some towns I might otherwise never visit.

And there is something special to me about shutting off the car in the middle of the Texas countryside during a snowfall and just taking in a deep breath of cold air, and hearing the sound of silence (not Simon and Garfunkel, but that absolute lack of sound that accompanies snow). There's something very special about that.
For the past three years I have been 'chasing' snow squalls during winter. When NW flow upslope snow starts here in WV, the banding can be similar to lake-effect. It can be clear in Charleston, but snowing hard 20 miles to the north or south. The elevation is also a big factor. I can go 2,000 feet higher by driving east toward Beckley, and nearly every time there is a freezing (rain-snow) line, I'll hit it somewhere just west of Beckley.

I used ThreatNet to catch a nice lake-effect snow band last month near Erie, PA. I went from clear skies to this in about three miles:


I was really after thundersnow, which is why I made the seven-hour drive to Buffalo. Yes, I'm driving that far (and farther) for snowstorms now. I would have been there for the October event, but we had a photo exhibit a few days after and there was no way for me to get away.

I'm planning on doing a couple of lake-effect chases again this coming October.
Chasing snow squalls seem to be quite an interesting experience but there are not many of them there in Québec. We had some of them Feb 17th 2006 and it was a terrible mess. Since people here often drive into snowstorms, they almost do not bother when you tell then it's going to snow hard and it's going to be windy (I was part of these on the road, I didnt care much too at that time). Then Env. Can (Canadians' NWS) told people not to go out, but it was sunny outside. Then people were occasionnaly trapped on road with squalls lasting only a few minutes. I had an accident on this day, I stoped on time when I saw a pile-up crash but had not enough time to clear out the road before that jeep destroyed my car's back. There were more than 15 cars in this pile-up but everyone was okay. The worst was going to happen. This accident made the whole highway circulation to stop. Then there was 8 or 10 km of traffic jam when another squall hapenned, this time making everyone not seeing that there was a jam ahead and causing a 70 cars pile-up with trucks and buses. Probably the biggest car accident in Province of Québec.

I'd say that this day it was a close enough call so I pay much better respect to snow squalls.

Since this is a rare case here, I didnt pay much attention to them since I considered them to be normal snow falls. Next time I will pay more attention to the phenomenon since it seems to be an interesting one to me.
Well, I never even dared bring up chasing snow and more specifically lake effect events on here because everyone is so focused on thunderstorms and the like. However, in my prime location, I can chase extraordinary lake effect events by driving only an hour or two, either east or west. Just two days ago I chased a nice lake band running the entire fetch of Ontario. It was actually a band that was primed and formed in the upper lakes (Georgian bay, lake Huron) so it was very well developed by the time it traversed Ontario, and put out some fairly high snowfall rates 3"/hr. The beauty about pure lake effect events is that the surrounding areas are crystal clear which leaves a prime view of the actual cloud structures forming over the lake. Anyway, I absolutely love chasing snow events, specifically lake effect. And I'm only a few hours away from some of the heaviest snow producing places on the entire planet. I actually took off from work to chase the October storm because it was apparent that it would probably be one of the most intense lake effect storms in history, and it did not disappoint. One of my many other favorite events was the 5 day 88 inch Christmas event in Buffalo, back in 2001. (Bald eagle was the event name When I head out to chase a good event, I usually set some goals to find the deepest snow, punch the band a number of times, witness some thundersnow etc, etc. Glad I'm not alone.
Mountainous areas like Colorado and New Mexico are also good places to observe snow squalls and snowshowers. Similarly to what happens when cold air moves over warm water to produce lake effect squalls, the mountains induce or enhance uplift leading to convective snow. Often, these snowshowers can closely resemble summer thunderstorms:


More pictures and discussion at:
AAh Tom: Your a true weather freak after my own heart! As many are probably aware of... I'm an extreme winter weather fan... as much as severe weather here on the plains. I lived a total of 15 years in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula where we average aproximately 225 inches of powder per winter... this year, we're way short... hardly 80 inches I believe to date... 15-20 inches of that I went back to the Keweenaw to chase during the snow event back in mid Oct.

The heaviest snows I've ever seen have been on the Keweenaw, when lake effect bands would converge to about a 5 to 15 mile wide band where 10 to 20" would descend literally in an afternoon. I remember the winter of '95-'96 where we had 350". It started around Halloween, we had close to 60" in Nov. and over 120" in December. We went from just before Halloween to a few days before Christmas with NO SUN... if it shined at all, it was literally a few seconds at best. January saw a continuation of heavy lake effect with temps down into the -10'sF with -40F well away from the lake. Our depest snow pack at my house in Chassell, Mi. was right at about 60" with drifts over 10-12ft. deep. What got old... was that we had below zero weather right into the first couple of days of April... and when I returned from chasing here in Okla. after Memorial Day... there still was snow in the woods and the trees had just started to bud out. I love winter... but that was tooooo long!

Anyway... my days in Michigan had many a chase day after those covergent zones that would set up.. they are most common early in the season and sometimes were accompanied by gusty winds that literally blew INTO the bands from the south side. The centre of the band, wind would be calm to light but snow was coming down at such a rate that literally the windshield was covered completely in one minute. One such day... I think it was Dec.'95... Calumet, Mi. had 18" in 4 hours, I remember going through there that day and I literally had snow coming up to just below my headlights... it was a very low moisture content type snow, very fluffy... temps I believe were around 10F... it was incredible. As long as I kept driving, I would'nt get stuck. Those were the days!

As far as the ultimate in lake effect snow chasing... the Keweenaw would rank way up there, but upstate New York between Oswego and Watertown would be another great place... the ultimate from what I hear, is the Trans Canada Hwy north of the Soo, Ont. I've heard stories from folks who have spent time or driven through places like Montreal River Harbour to Wawa, Ont. that literally two feet have come down in a few hours under the most extraordinary conditions. On the Keweenaw though, you get great lake effect from the west to the east north of Caumet. It is a true snow lovers paradise. If you want a more indepth look to this place, an aquaintance of mine who is a degreed meteorologist has a great webpage and has scores of pictures of the place. He is the ultimate snow fanatic... click on Also, you can check out: for other pics as well. Once there... click on the "pasty Cam" and you'll find the latest pictures and archived shots from years back of what that place is capable of. God willing, one day, I'll be back there!
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