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A view from space shows the Great Lakes region. The Keweenaw Peninsula, Lake Michigan and the Thumb peek out through cloud cover. Red location pins mark Bloomingdale in southwest Michigan and Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula. Image Credit: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Location Matters

Winds typically flow out of the west in the Great Lakes region, so most lake effect snow occurs to the east of each Great Lake. For example, Escanaba, located in the upper peninsula on the north shore of Lake Michigan, receives an average of 50 inches of snow each year. Bloomingdale is 239 miles south of Escanaba and its annual snowfall is 98 inches! Heavy snow fell throughout Van Buren County in 1936. It was documented in numerous photos and postcards.

A black-and-white photo shows railroad tracks in the snow, snow-covered trees in the distance. Text on the photo reads 'G Avenue railroad crossing, 1951 (now Kal-Haven Trail).' Image Credit: Sue Hodapp

A winter 1951 black-and-white photo shows a young man standing next to a waist-high snowbank on G Avenue. Legs spread wide, he leans to his left, grinning as he holds a chunk of snow larger than a basketball in his bare right hand. A handwritten note reads 'muscels[sic]!' Image Credit: Sue Hodapp

A black and white photo shows a young woman standing on G Avenue in winter 1951. Her smiling face turned toward the camera, she stands in profile by a waist-high snowbank. Her arms are extended in front of her, holding a large chunk of snow in her bare hands. Image Credit: Sue Hodapp

A black and white photo of a winter scene in Gobles. The snow in an unplowed downtown street is almost to the top of a row of parking meters. Image Credit: Van Buren District Library

A black and white photo shows a winter scene in Gobles. On a snow-covered street, a man stands outside a gas station. He wears a cap, overcoat and pants tucked into boots. Everything is mounded with snow, from the flower boxes to awnings to the gas pumps and cars. Image Credit: Van Buren District Library

A black and white photo shows a man wearing an overcoat, cap and gloves, standing next to a car. On both sides of the street, snow is plowed into banks taller than the man. Image Credit: Van Buren District Library

The front of a black and white postcard titled 'Gobles in winter 1936' shows a snowy scene looking down a plowed road. To the left of the road are trees, to the right, a brick building and in the distance a water tower. Image Credit: Dick Godfrey

The back of the postcard titled 'Gobles in winter 1936' shows a one-cent stamp and a postmark of January 22, 1937. In partially legible script, Beulah writes her sister Mrs. H. K. Steckes that Beulah and Jack may have difficulty getting into town for a visit because of the snow. Image Credit: Dick Godfrey

A color map titled 'Lower Peninsula, 2013-2014 Seasonal Snowfall' has a legend with nine different ranges of snowfall. The lowest snowfall is south of Saginaw Bay; the greatest snowfall is northwest of Traverse City. The snow belt in southwest Michigan along Lake Michigan shows snowfall in excess of 100 inches. Image Credit: The National Weather Service Forecast Office Grand Rapids, Michigan

Notice how much more snow falls in the Lower Peninsula snow belt, the land just east of Lake Michigan, compared to other parts of the state.

The Science Behind Lake Effect

A graphic shows Lake Michigan and its snowy shores. Thin wavy horizontal lines indicate wind movement from west to east, while thicker wavy vertical lines indicate air movement upward from the lake. Snow falls from a cloud above a bare tree on the eastern shore. Typeface reads: 'cold air + heat and moisture = lots of snow.' Image Credit: Michigan History Museum

Large bodies of water take longer than air to heat up and cool down. In winter, cold, dry air blowing across warm lakes picks up moisture and heat from the water below. As the air reaches land, it rises and gets even colder. The moisture in the cloud freezes into snow falls to earth.

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