Lake Effect: Tales of Large Lakes, Arctic Winds, and Recurrent Snows by Mark Monmonier (review)
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Lake Effect: Tales of Large Lakes, Arctic Winds, and Recurrent Snows. By Mark Monmonier, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2012. Pp. xvi+ 246. $24.95.

Mark Monmonier’s new book is a comprehensive compilation of the history, makeup, and impact of the ubiquitous lake effect snows, which occur downwind (to the south and southeast) of the Great Lakes on the border of the United States and Canada. To the uninitiated reader, he describes in great detail what it takes to deal with them; to the uninitiated scientist, he addresses the science and scope of the highly regional lake effect, and the difference between synoptic (regional) and local snow. This effectively holds the attention of the reader, whether scientifically inclined or not.

The history of the discovery and early attempt to describe the phenomenon known as “lake effect snow” is thoroughly covered, as is the outline and history of the observational network used over the years. Monmonier pays attention to the current state of forecasting lake effect squalls, as well as the advances and deficiencies of modern-day observation and forecasting, both in technique and in the tools of observation. Due to the author’s exhaustive coverage of how the science is actually done, this book has a sound meteorological footing; and with his usual inimitable style, it also acts as an entertaining history of the time when the intersection of lake effect forecasting and advances in regional meteorology coincide. [End Page 1014]

What sets this volume apart is Monmonier’s ability to take the readers and comfortably put them into a feeling of “place,” to provide a humanization of the science, such that even those raised in a warm climate can experience what it means to deal with this quite localized and occasionally threatening situation. His recounting of the suddenness of the onset, the intensity of the snow, the bitterness of the cold, the whiteout conditions, and the rapid clearing after passing through a squall will linger in the reader’s mind. The vivid descriptions will be recalled each time the forecast of lake effect snow is heard, no matter where in the world the listener hears it. There is much to say about the facets of human, regional, and economic geography, and they are covered well.

Describing plows stuck in too much snow (both today and years ago) outlines the problems with which municipalities have had to contend. It is clear that this is a highly localized situation, yet even state-level agencies must provide specialized services, sometimes on very short notice, as the interstates and the Thruway must be closed. The recounting of the problems individual travelers suffer, including Monmonier’s own travails, is clear and vivid. Having braved the squalls many times while living in Buffalo, I can attest that the description (and occasional horror) of driving through them is quite accurate.

One important advance that Monmonier discusses is the use of private meteorologists for forecasting and managing these snow events. Most cities and towns now employ such experts, and they have found success in reining in out-of-control snow removal budgets with accurate and timely point-specific forecasts. As the government meteorologist is forced to cover larger areas with broader forecasts, the private one can spend the time needed to accurately address the local effects. This is a wave of the future, and the author recognizes its importance in successfully preparing for and dealing with this unique winter weather. Perhaps this will give a boost to private-sector meteorology at a time it is sorely needed.

As with other titles from the author, this work would serve to support many courses in higher education, including any human or economic geography course, regional geography course, or a specialized meteorology or climatology course. And Monmonier’s knack for taking us right along with him on his journeys in snow-squall country means that the book is an entertaining read. In summary, Lake Effect can answer any question the lay reader or scientist might have about the snows of the Great Lakes, while regaling both with tales of the life-threatening nature of the beast. [End Page 1015]

Lou McNally

Dr. Lou McNally...