October 20, 2017
What conditions does it take to get a reasonably large snow in November? What are some of the biggest snowfalls in November in northern, central and southern Indiana over the past several years?
Let’s address the first question now so you understand that snow can happen in Indiana in November, even though it’s not climatological winter yet. Weather forecasters count December, January and February as climatological winter for various purposes, including tracking snowfall totals. By the calendar, Mother Nature doesn’t actually begin winter until Dec. 21.
Early snowstorms in the Midwest are almost always frontal systems that coincide with cold weather. Low pressure to the north is accompanied by a warm front and a cold front moving from west to east.
In most cases, the cold front moves more quickly than the warm front and pushes under the warm air mass to its east. The cold front pushes up the warm air in front of it and creates convection and storms. If the temperature is cold enough, these storms can become snowstorms.
A second source of early-season snowfall is lake-effect snow. In Indiana, this phenomenon affects locales downwind from the southern area of Lake Michigan, like South Bend. Lake-effect snow is caused when moisture from a warm lake surface is rises into colder air above and creates convective clouds and snowstorms downwind of the lake. Lake-effect snow usually falls in narrow bands of heavy snow inland from the lake. Lake-effect snow affects areas like Buffalo, N.Y., and the eastern shore of Lake Michigan heavily each winter. There is also a snow belt in the South Bend area in Indiana, which often feels the brunt of lake-effect snows.
Past snow totals
November snow in northern Indiana comes from both frontal systems and lake-effect storms. In central Indiana, large snow totals in November are not common, and they’re even less common in southern Indiana.
However, records statewide, with Louisville, Ky., included to represent south-central Indiana, range from just over an inch on Thanksgiving in Louisville, all-time, to over a foot in one day at South Bend in November 1977. Take a look at the chart below to get a better indication of past November snows in Indiana.
Eggert works in the Indiana State Climate Office. He writes from West Lafayette, Ind.
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