Lake effect

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I’d mentioned earlier that one of the first things I learned about Cleveland was that I couldn’t get there from here – specifically from the east side to the west side or the south side of Greater Cleveland because of the unfinished  interstates, which, with the exception of I-71, dead-ended in or just outside of Cleveland.

Also unique to Greater Cleveland is its diverse and distinctive weather patterns, which can vary greatly on its east, west, and south suburbs.

When running a sweep that says “WMMS reminds you that it’s time to turn so you won’t burn” or our top-of-the-hour ID, “The station that reaches the beaches, shakes the lakes, and rocks the rivers” we’d have to be certain that the weather was sunny throughout the entire Greater Cleveland listening area.

But winter was the worst!

For those reading this that aren’t familiar with Cleveland weather, let me explain.   

The east and west side also experience diverse and distinctive weather patterns.  Greater Cleveland, being on the southern shores of Lake Erie experiences a weather condition called “Lake Effect.”

This occurrence is limited to the Great Lakes and the Great Salt Lake in Utah and parts of Japan, Korea and Scandinavia.   

A number of cities have snow belts; areas and regions where the snowfall is greater than the cities and towns it borders.  But nothing comes close to what goes on in the Great Lakes region. 

The Great Lakes generate their own weather circulation patterns, which alters the climate and weather of the surrounding terrain.  The cooling air produces clouds of ice-crystals, which turn into snowflakes.

When cold wind blows the clouds over land, its heat source is lost and the air cannot hold its the moisture.   For a little over sixty miles Lake Erie’s shoreline is due east-to-west from Sandusky, west of Cleveland, to the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, the dividing line of the east and west sides.  At the Cuyahoga – smack-dab in the middle of the city of Cleveland, the Ohio shore curves upward in a northeasterly direction.

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That causes winds going across the southern most portion of Lake Erie to crash into the east side of Greater Cleveland resulting in  heavy snow downwind, which can drop up to a foot or more of snow in just a few hours from the east side of Cleveland to Buffalo, which often receives the full force of it.

Those living along the lake on the west side can, depending on wind direction, witness lake effect in action.   Steam rises from the lake creating overhead clouds heading east.

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The Great Plains begin on the west side of Cleveland, which is flat, while the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains rise on the east side, beginning with Cedar and Mayfield Roads.  As the lake effect wind continues inland and travels up to higher elevations, the air cools further because it’s forced to rise.  This activates additional snow to occur in higher elevations southeast of the city beginning with Lake and Geauga counties.

Severe lake effect snow squalls can cause accumulations of 20 to 30 inches per day.  Snowfall as high as a foot of snow in one hour has been recorded.  Lake effect isn’t limited to winter.  It is also the cause of flash flooding from melting snow in the spring and torrential rainfall in the summer and fall. Pollution is another aspect of lake effect. 

The air on the east side being far more contaminated than the west and Chardon is Greater Cleveland’s most polluted region, due to winds slamming into the east side carrying dirty air from the industrial Midwest, including Michigan, Indiana,  and Illinois.

Many cities along the Great Lakes, like Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit are at the mercy of lake effect weather.  Greater Cleveland’s different.  Except on the rare occasion, lake effect is rarely felt on the west side, leaving Greater Cleveland with two distinct climates.

The west side has more sunny days and far less precipitation than the east side.

The lake also keeps temperatures cooler along the entire lake shore – east and west – so it’s not uncommon to have a five to ten degree difference to occur just a couple of miles south of Lake Erie.

It was bad enough that for the first few years, we were housed in a windowless bunker-building at 50th and Euclid – and couldn’t tell what the weather was outside without walking down the corridor, out into the hall, and look through the glass door.  This was many years before surveillance cameras were routine.

We didn’t have Doppler radar or anything other than Dick Goddard’s 6 and 11 PM forecast to rely on.

Since some of the music and sweepers we played on-the-air related to the weather, it added to our challenge to program and market a radio station that would have equal appeal on both sides of town. 

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