An upper level ridge was building across the Western United States on January 17th, 2016 that resulted in a corresponding trough or dip in the jet stream across the Eastern United States the same day. This ridge and trough pattern allowed the jet stream to dip southward across the Great Lakes ushering in the coldest air mass of the season. As a result of this dip in the jet stream, an arctic cold front moved through the region during the morning hours on the 17th. After the passage of the front, this cold air flowed across the relatively warm lake and mostly ice-free surface of Lake Erie to allow for lake-effect snow bands to develop.

Figure 1: Snowfall map. Courtesy of NOAA

These multiple snow bands moved across Northeastern Ohio east of Cleveland. The prevailing wind direction was mainly a persistent westerly direction which helped to keep these bands across Northeast Pennsylvania and Lake, Geauga, and Ashtabula counties in Ohio. Some of the bands produced snowfall rates upwards of 2+” per hour. Areas where the bands remained the most persistent saw heavy snowfall exceeding 18”. Some of those amounts were: 29.0” near Chardon, OH, 21.8” near Kirtland, OH, 18.2” near Conneaut, OH, and 25.7” in Millcreek Township, PA.

Figure 2: 500 mb chart for January 18, 2016 at 7 am E.S.T showing the low pressure over Hudson Bay allowing the cold air to flow across the Great Lakes. Courtesy of NOAA

Those 2 feet plus amount occurred a few miles inland from the immediate lake shoreline where elevation played a role in the high snow totals. Since the wind was mainly a west direction this allowed for most of the bands to miss the immediate Cleveland area with only 2.0” recorded at Cleveland-Hopkins airport. If the winds were more northwesterly, the immediate Cleveland area would have seen much higher totals. The higher elevations east of Cleveland saw upwards of a foot of snow.


Figure 3: Topographic map of Ohio showing the vast terrain around the Northeast Ohio area. Courtesy of Joe Grim (

Figure 3 shows the vast terrain difference across Northeast Ohio. As you head inland from the lakeshore the terrain rises to 1000+ feet. When cold air flows across the lake surface of Lake Erie, it picks up moisture (Figure 4). When this air hits up against the higher terrain it is lifted further which allows moisture to be squeezed out of the atmosphere. This occurred during this lake-effect allowing the higher terrain to receive much higher snowfall than near the lakeshore.

For the areas that did not see much snow, the frigid cold air was the main story. Temperatures behind this arctic cold front were in the single digits and teens. Due to the gusty westerly winds, wind chills were dropped to between zero and -17F. The images below show where the heaviest snow set up as well as the synoptic setup for this event.

Figure 4: courtesy of Department of Atmospheric Science from the University of Illinois

By: Michael Vuotto
trueWeather Meteorologist

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