Justin Hartnett, SUNY Oneonta – Predicting Snowfall

How snow will respond to climate change is a pressing issue for some regions.

Justin Hartnett, assistant professor of geography and environmental sustainability at SUNY Oneonta, explores how to predict the future.

Justin Hartnett, an Assistant Professor of Geography and Environmental Sustainability at SUNY Oneonta, explores the differences in snowstorms to the lee of Lake Ontario.  His research focuses on snowstorms in the Great Lakes and Northeast United States and how different snowstorms contribute to seasonal snowfall totals.  He’s currently researching how variations in different snowstorms will impact future snowfall totals throughout the region.  He teaches courses in physical geography, climatology, environmental science, and geospatial analysis.

Predicting Snowfall


The Great Lakes basin is one of the snowiest regions in North America.  Snow has become an integral part of its natural and human environments.  But as the global climate warms, how will snow respond?

To answer this question, we must first understand where the snow comes from.  My research uses satellite imagery, radar, reanalysis, and ground observations to reconstruct snowstorms downwind of Lake Ontario.  Over the past 30 years, there have been eleven different storm types to produce snow east of Lake Ontario including lake-effect snowstorms, Nor’easters, and clippers. 

Why does this matter?  Because snowfall contributions from these eleven storm types can exhibit considerable variability even within the Lake Ontario basin.  Therefore, I needed to determine the relative contribution of each storm type to seasonal snowfall totals throughout the basin.  Although there is this notion that lake-effect dominates snowfall totals east of Lake Ontario, I found a clear spatial dimension that has been overlooked.  While most of the study area was dominated by lake-effect, there were locations where Nor’easters and Rocky lows contributed more to seasonal snowfall totals.  Regardless, snowfall contributions from all eleven storm types varied across the study area. 

Understanding where a location’s snowfall is derived from will help improve seasonal snowfall predictions both in the near future and as the climate changes.  It is projected that the eleven storm types will respond differently to a warming climate.  Therefore, even within a small region, two separate locations may see their snow trend in opposite directions. 

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