Words for Snow

Back in the 60's, my sister and I only knew one word for snow - fun!

It is said that our neighbors to the north, the people of the Eskimo and Inuit tribes, have many names for snow in it’s various forms, such as kaniktshaq, snow; qanik, falling snow; anijo, snow on the ground.  Here in Northern Ohio, and specifically Northeast Ohio, we have various names for snow too.  And I’m not talking about those four letter words that fly when 10 inches of snow is on your driveway and no matter how many times you pull the starter the snowthrower gives a weak sputter but won’t start!  No, our weather predicters bandy about these descriptive terms.


A clipper system is a fast moving low pressure system.  Its normal movement is from northwest to southeast.  It normally produces light snow, strong winds, and colder temperatures.  It is most often referred to as an Alberta Clipper here.  We had a clipper here a couple of days ago.  Usually we don’t get much snow from a clipper and we didn’t this time, but you may find your garbage can several houses down the street once its high winds have passed. 

Thundersnow, or Synoptic Snowstorm

There are usually four forms of thundersnow:

  • A normal thunderstorm on the leading edge of a cold front or warm front that can either form in a winter environment or one that runs into cool air and where the precipitation takes the form of snow.
  • A heavy synoptic snowstorm in the comma head of an extratropical cyclone that sustains strong vertical mixing which allows for favorable conditions for lightning and thunder to occur.   This is our usual visitor.
  • A lake effect or ocean effect thunderstorm which is produced by cold air passing over relatively warm water; this effect commonly produces snow squalls over the Great Lakes.   We get these early and late in the winter, before and after Lake Erie freezes over.
  • A cold front containing extremely cold air aloft, steepening lapse rates and causing strong vertical movement which allows for favorable conditions for lightning and thunder to occur

One unique aspect of thundersnow is that the snowfall acts as an acoustic suppressor of the thunder. The thunder from a typical thunderstorm can be heard many miles away, while the thunder from thundersnow can usually only be heard within a two to three mile radius from the lightning.    It always catches me by surprise because I still think like a Southern Ohioan – thunder, in winter???   It’s a strange phenomenon and if there’s lightning I never see it because I’m inside OUT OF THE SNOW!

Lake Effect Snow

Forecast map for Monday, Dec 6, 2010

 This can be the Big One, the one that closes schools and turns your daily 20 minute commute into 3 hours in hell.  A fickle beast, it can produce from zero inches to two feet of snow or more “where bands persist” as our weathermen say.  The fun part?  You never know where those bands will persist and neither do the predictors.   Downtown Cleveland and areas directly south found that out on Monday evening, when those persistant bands parked themselves over the downtown area just at rush hour, bringing traffic to a standstill for about 3 hours.  Very little snow was predicted for that area Wednesday.  Lucky them….  

Lake Effect Snow is produced in cooler atmospheric conditions when cold winds move across long expanses of warmer lake water, providing energy and picking up water vapor which freezes and is deposited on the leeward shores.  The effect is enhanced when the moving air mass is uplifted by the orographic effect of higher elevations on the downwind shores. This uplifting can produce narrow but very intense bands of precipitation, which deposit at a rate of many inches of snow each hour, often resulting in copious snowfall totals. The areas affected by lake-effect snow are called snowbelts. This effect occurs in many locations throughout the world but is best known in the populated areas of the Great Lakes of North America, and especially Western New York, northwestern Pennsylvania, northeastern Ohio, southwestern and central Ontario, northwestern and northcentral Indiana (mostly between Gary, IN and Elkhart, IN), western Michigan and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which can average over 200 inches (5 meters) of snow per year and averages the most snow of any non-mountainous location within the continental U.S.

I live on the low ground, only about one mile from Lake Erie, as the crow flies.  If the winds are high enough all that snow will blow right over my head and will collect on the high ground down around Chardon and Burton, Ohio, in Geauga County.  Or the snow can drop right on us and drop more on the high ground.  It’s a crap shoot and you just better be ready for the worst.

The kiddies are happy when school is called off, but you need to be a hardy soul if you are a student in Lake County.  These schools don’t like to close.   Monday morning there was a blizzard going on while I was driving to work but schools were open and kids were huddling at the bus stops.  I remember when I lived in Southern Ohio if there was a rumor of snow school would close.  

Of course, there is a silver lining for some in our snowy corner of the world.  I work for Best Truck Equipment where we sell and service snowplows and ice removal equipment.  We have been so busy this year we need a 5th phone line.   We sell all over USA through our web store so if you need snowplow or salt spreader parts give us a call.  Our customers are crabby at the long hours of plowing but happy to be making money.

There are lots of opportunities for fun in the snow too, skiing and sledding and building snowmen.  We will be keeping our bird feeders full and our gas tanks, too!


About SallyK

A little blog about the ordinary and not so ordinary things our family does, places we travel, things we see. Like travel, cooking, family stories, book reviews, music? You will find it all here - comments welcome!
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