West Michigan Tourist Association

John Ball Zoo

Lake Effect Snow

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Lake Effect snow. In West Michigan, it's a phrase that sends either shivers of joy or trepidation down your spine to your wool covered toes. In the winter months, it's the reason you either jump out of bed or burrow deeper under the covers. It means awesome skiing and snowmobiling, but also hours of shoveling the sidewalks. Any way you look at it, Lake Effect means snow, lots of snow.

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What is Lake Effect really? It's a weather phenomenon that is best known in the Great Lakes region, though it takes place world wide. In the early winter months, a large body of water, such as Lake Michigan, will take its sweet time cooling, leaving the water temperature much warmer than the air above. As cool winds cross, the lake evaporates rapidly, forming narrow bands of precipitation that certainly do not hold back upon reaching leeward shores. Perhaps surprisingly, it's not the shoreline that gets hit the hardest by the snow bands, but 15 miles inland where the terrain begins to rise.

A few examples of Lake Effect:

Milwaukee and Muskegon are neighbors with 87 miles of Lake Michigan lying between them. Milwaukee receives an average of 52.6" of snow each year while the Lake Effect dumps an average of 105.5" inches of snow annually. This is great news for fans of the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, home of one of only four luge tracks in the States.

The lakeside community of Charlevoix receives plenty of snow with an annual average of 117", but it's the Apline-themed village of Gaylord, located 30 miles southeast, that sees the Lower Peninsula's heaviest snow fall with an average of 149.2".

Lower Lake Michigan bowls out, creating a wide expanse of water for Lake Effect to creep across. More water means more evaporation which mean, of course, more snow. Kalamazoo, located in southern West Michigan, receives 78.6" of Lake Effect snow. Compare this to its seaside neighbor of South Haven with 54.3" or eastward Jackson with 48.2". The greater Kalamazoo area another great snow sport destination with three ski areas calling this region home: Bittersweet, Swiss Valley, and Timber Ridge.

Downhill sports, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, tubing and sledding: make the choice to rejoice in West Michigan's Lake Effect, and bundle up for winter's great white carpet. Find out more in Outdoor Recreation.

Average Snowfall in West Michigan
Region One  
Charlevoix 117.8"  
Cheboygan 83.1"  
Petoskey 117.1"  
St. James, Beaver Island 81"  
   
Region Two  
Frankfort 113.5"  
Gaylord 149.2"  
Suttons Bay 91"  
Traverse City 96.4"  
     
Region Three    
Big Rapids 62.1"  
Cadillac 68.9"  
Ludington 66.8"  
Manistee 84.3"  
Mt. Pleasant 37.2"  
     
Region Four    
Grand Rapids 73.4"  
Holland 61.7"  
Lansing 54.5"  
Muskegon 105.5"  
     
Region Five    
Jackson 48.2"  
Kalamazoo 78.6"  
South Haven 54.3"  
St. Joseph 55.7"