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article imageFirst lake effect snow assails Toronto Special

By Sandy Dechert     Dec 17, 2013 in Environment
Toronto - 'Tis the season for especially deep snow in Toronto, Canada's largest and most populous city. While most North Americans have never heard of lake effect snow, Toronto--on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario--gets a lot of it.
When cold winds blow across long fetches (over 100 km, or 60 mi) of warmer water--fresh or salt--they gain energy and pick up water vapor. The airborne water then freezes and falls as snow in downwind bands. Areas leeward of the wind thus receive more precipitation than other shore points simply because of where they lie in relation to the lake. Later in the winter, the lake effect subsides as ice reduces the water surface.
Aerial photo of lake effect snow over the Great Lakes
Aerial photo of lake effect snow over the Great Lakes
Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
According to Environment Canada, the national environmental agency, the winter climate of that country is more severe than in most other nations in the world. Canadians from most other provinces think people in Ontario's capital are effete for complaining about a little winter weather. Toronto is not one of the igloo cities. While its temps average 14°C (28°F) in January and snowfall usually stays at or near 37 cm (14.6 in) for the month, in Winnipeg (also a southern city), the mercury is more like -9°C (-16°F) Quebec City receives twice as much precipitation as Toronto, and St. John's, nearly three times.
However, in Toronto winter has a special bite. The city is comparatively quite humid year-round, and humidity adds a significant edge to cold weather. Too soon, the lake effect snow can accumulate swiftly and unpredictably. Strong winds and drifting often come along with it, and blizzards, or white-outs, are not uncommon.
Last weekend's winter storm in Toronto, the season's first big one, was predicted to be fierce. "The cold air is in place, the big question is how much moisture will this system feed into the area," said CityNews meteorologist Adam Stiles. "The lake-effect snow off Lake Ontario will get it stacking up.” Environment Canada issued a winter storm warning on Friday afternoon, noting reduced visibilities and poor winter driving conditions. More snow is expected to cause sloppy commuting Tuesday and next weekend.
In addition, the City of Toronto has issued an extreme cold weather alert, with a daytime high not expected to rise above freezing until Friday. Shelter spaces and overnight street outreach are increased in the city's core during such alerts, directed particularly at the homeless population and focusing solely on "warning people of danger and urging them to get into a shelter or another warm, indoor place," Toronto city government officials have said. "Workers will transport people to warm places if necessary."
The Farmer's Almanac predicts “Days of Shivery” for the rest of Toronto's winter, with below-normal temperatures and "a snowy winter season" around the Great Lakes and wicked storms in mid-March.
Toronto Harbour in winter
Toronto Harbour in winter
Digital Journal
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