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Lake Breeze Thunderstorms
Thunderstorms can be triggered by a wide variety of weather interactions. Recently, scientists in Ontario, Canada have documented a severe storm triggered by lake breezes flowing off Lakes Erie and Huron and converging over the region.
Lake breezes form when sunlight strongly heats the land surface adjacent to large bodies of relatively cold water such as the Great Lakes during spring and summer. As the colder lake air rushes onto the shore, the lake breeze forms behind a small-scale cold front known as the lake breeze front.
The region of southwestern Ontario along a line from Detroit to Toronto is bounded by Lake Huron to the north and Lake Erie to the south. Lake breeze fronts often move in from both lakes and approach each other. The two frontal advances push the warm land air into a narrow, often stationary, convergence zone and force it to rise upward. This convergence forms bands of cumulus clouds that can grow into thunderstorms when conditions are ripe.
A recent field study, named ELBOW, observed a thunderstorm born between the converging lake breeze fronts quickly grow into a severe storm in about 20 minutes. A spotter team experienced heavy rain, downed trees and flooded roads and fields from it. Local radar estimated that 8 inches of rain fell at the small crossroads community of Punkeydoodle Corners over a five-hour period due to this stationary storm cell formed between the lake-breeze fronts.
New advances in radar and improved satellite observations have alerted us to new thunderstorm triggers such as the lake breeze front. This knowledge will help improve forecasts and warnings to residents around the Great Lakes region.
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