For three days straight, heavy bursts of snow come and go bringing very high icy cold winds and complete white out conditions. Then before you know it, the sun comes out as you sit inside looking out the window, waiting for the next band of snow to move in. In those three days, the snow has accumulated to five and six feet in your small town. You start to think that maybe a huge blizzard just hit your portion of the United States, but in reality, it just hit your small town and maybe a few more towns to your north without making breaking news coverage. How could this be? This is a near disaster! Only people unfamiliar with lake effect snow would think like this, but this is almost a daily occurrence around parts of the Great Lakes region in the winter. One lake effect event can bury one town under five feet of snow easily while leaving a town that is only a mile or two up the road with only a light dusting of snow.
Lake effect snow happens when very cold air moves over a relatively warm body of water which forces the warm air to rise and condense to form precipitation in the form of snow which falls over land downwind from the lake in the direction of the wind. Sometimes lake effect snow can be so intense that you can actually get thunder-snow! Eye witness reports have said many times about lake effect snow events where it is snowing so hard that every once and a while, you can see lightning and hear the distant clap of thunder.
I live in Central Pennsylvania and about 150 miles southeast of Lake Erie. Lake effect snow usually dies out when it travels over land, but if one of those very intense snow bands that caused thunder and lightning along the Lake Erie shoreline continues to move at a fast pace, it may survive for long distances, weakening as it moves along. Living so far from "Lake Effect snow country", I rarely see any snow from these events. I do however remember one snowfall that came from a lake effect snow band. There was a very intense snow band that moved off lake Erie with reports of thunder, and snow coming down so hard that you could not see your hand in front of your face just south of the city of Erie, Pennsylvania. That snow band dropped three feet of snow in a five hour period as it was whisked away with the high winds. 150 miles away, the high winds that I had to deal with all day brought dark skies and white out conditions for about a half an hour that afternoon before the band which had weakened considerably by the time it crashed into my town with fifty mile per hour winds and a modest five inches of snow which is a lot of snow for how far away that lake effect snow band had to travel over hills, valleys, and mountains to reach my area. The next day, schools were closed from the snow and tree covered roads and the power outages. So for one day I got to boast that I had a Lake effect snow day from school!