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Lake Effect Snow

The Great Lakes create unique weather patterns. One of those weather patterns is lake effect snow. Lake effect snowstorms occur in only three places in the world: the Great Lakes, the east shore of Hudson Bay and along the west coasts of the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. While people in the snow belt regions have learned to adapt, living near the lakes and experiencing lake effect snow still affects the economy and culture in significant ways. For example, winter sports like skiing and snowmobiling are major industries in some snow areas. This lesson explores how the Great Lakes influence lake effect snow, other factors that contribute to it and ways of reading weather conditions to forecast lake effect storms.

Objectives:

  • Describe the factors that create lake effect snow.
  • Describe how differences in lake and air temperature relate to lake effect snow.
  • Describe weather conditions associated with the movement of frontal boundaries across the Great Lakes region.
  • Describe how hills and highlands help form clouds and precipitation.
  • Describe how cities and industrial areas are related to lake effect snow.

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Dangerous Currents: Don’t Get Swept Away

It was the day after Christmas 2010. Dave Benjamin, a Great Lakes surfer, was winter surfing on Lake Michigan with some friends when he got into trouble. The leash to his surfboard failed, and he was out in the water, getting hit by wave after wave and was caught in a current. Water had breached his wetsuit. He was losing energy.

“I have been swimming in Lake Michigan all of my life,” said Benjamin. “All of that experience went out the window when panic set in. I came to a point where I was writing myself off. I came to the resolution that I’m not going home today.”

This lesson explores dangerous currents, including rip currents that commonly occur throughout the Great Lakes.

Objectives:

  • Learn about the different types of dangerous currents and where they occur.
  • Understand who is most at risk.
  • Analyze data about rescues and deaths related to dangerous currents.
  • Explain actions that will help prevent drowning.

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Dangerous Currents 101

You may have heard about the rip tide or undertow before. These are terms that people commonly use to describe dangerous currents. However, since there are no tides in the Great Lakes (needed to form a rip tide) and currents don’t pull a person down under the water (undertow), they are a bit inaccurate. Instead, we call these dangerous currents. Also, most people know that ocean currents can be dangerous, but don’t suspect that there are such strong currents in the Great Lakes.

This lesson explores dangerous currents, including rip currents, that commonly occur throughout the Great Lakes.

Objectives:

  • Learn what a dangerous current is and where they can be found.
  • Understand the influences that contribute to dangerous current development in the Great Lakes.
  • Explain several different types of dangerous currents found in the Great Lakes.

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Great Lakes Waves and Water Safety Lesson

Students learn about how to analyze wind and wave data in the context of the famous historical wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, as well as a more recent storm in 2010. This lesson provides the opportunity for students to perform a retrospective investigation of the meteorological conditions that led to the shipwreck and explore how modern data sources could help prevent such a disaster. Additionally, students use weather maps to plan a “safe route” for a ship to navigate through the “North American Extratropical Cyclone of October 2010.” This lesson was prepared to support the educational mission of the Great Lakes Observing System.

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