Over the past several weeks I have had my first prolonged opportunity to experience what it is like to live in the land of lake effect snows. Just last Friday evening and overnight we received 15 inches of new lake effect snow in Grand Rapids. Meanwhile, just 60 miles to the east, Greater Lansing received only an inch or two as the squalls dissipated moving eastward. As the map below shows, the areas most prone to lake effect snow are downwind (or on the leeward side) of the Great Lakes.
Sure, you still have some motorists who drive ridiculously slow in a paralyze trance, while others zip along like it is a sunny summer day and they don’t have a care in the world. The trickiest part is when you are driving along on dry roads and suddenly enter a snow squall. In seconds you have gone from sunny weather to blinding snow. The roadway becomes covered within moments and visibility can be near zero. Needless to say, you have to be alert and always on your toes – watching both the weather and other drivers.
Generally, it seems the local populace takes the lake effect snow in stride and celebrates the awesome beauty of winter – been there, done that so to speak. They are prepared with plenty of shovels, ice/snow melt, heavy-duty snow blowers (no wimpy ones here), appropriate outer wear, and the other necessities for living in a snowy winter city. Similarly, local jurisdictions appear to be well-equipped to tackle the snow efficiently and quickly when it arrives – Grand Rapids and Kent County do a much better job clearing their streets, highways, and sidewalks than Greater Lansing.
In some of the lake effect communities, portions of the downtown shopping areas (in Holland and Grand Rapids) have heated sidewalks that improve pedestrian safety and enhance downtown business and shopping.
Overall I have been very impressed by the way Grand Rapids and vicinity handle the lake effect. Where many other cities would simply shut down, the Grand Rapids area largely takes it all in stride. Previously, my only other experiences with lake effect snow were along the Ohio Turnpike between Cleveland and Youngstown and in snow-skiing country around Petoskey, Michigan. Both Northeast Ohio and Northwest Lower Michigan do a good job with their fluffy winter visitors from the sky. At the first hint of a snowfall, the Ohio Turnpike has its fleet of snowplows stationed intermittently in medians along the expressway. Now, if these cities/regions could pass along a little advice on how to handle snow properly and how not to panic to the rest of the country, it would be very much appreciated.