Dreaming of a White Christmas: A Review of the 25-26 December 2017 Lake Effect Snow Event in Erie, Pennsylvania (315)

Zach Sefcovic, National Weather Service, Cleveland, Ohio



Significant winter weather events are not uncommon to Erie, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. Erie lies in the favorable snow belt region of the Lake Erie basin that spans from northeastern Ohio through northwestern Pennsylvania into western New York. The climate site at Erie International Airport receives on average 100.9 inches of snow per year with a majority of that snowfall occurring in December and January. On average, the Erie area typically sees about five warning criteria events each winter season, in which 8 or more inches of snowfall in a 24 hour period.

On 24 December 2017, a deepening synoptic low pressure system moved through the Ohio Valley and into the northeast. Some minor accumulations of snow fell across much of the Ohio Valley as the low moved through the area. However, as the low pressure system departed, winds veered over Lake Erie, allowing for lake effect snow to set up over the Erie area for Christmas Day. Over 5 feet of snow fell over the city of Erie during the 60 hours that followed. During a 24 hour period spanning portions of 25-26 December, 50.8 inches of snow was measured at Erie International Airport, a 24 hour record for the state of Pennsylvania.

This presentation will overview the synoptic and mesoscale conditions that allowed for an extreme lake effect snow event in Erie, Pennsylvania. This event will be placed into a context with other significant lake effect snow events across the Lake Erie basin and will include a brief discussion of favorable band type for extreme lake effect snow events. An examination of forecast and observational challenges for Erie will be reviewed, including radar coverage limitations and the usefulness of GOES-16 when radar is insufficient. This presentation will also analyze the NWS Cleveland snow spotter network and show totals from across the region during the event. Finally, there will be a brief overview of the State Climate Extremes Committee (SCEC) and the vetting of the Pennsylvania state snowfall records that were challenged after this event.