Friday, January 25, 2013

Why do we have Lake Effect Snow?

Winter has returned to Western New York. It has returned in the form of lake effect snow. As I understand it, lake effect snow occurs when Canadian air tries to invade the United States by streaming across the Great Lakes. As it travels across the great expanse of water, it gets tired and when it finally reaches land, it falls apart. During the winter, this falling apart is in the form of snow.

This leads to some unusual circumstances. The most notable is the very localized areas of snow, which makes it hard to forecast exactly where the snow will occur. Even though Canada is a large country, it does not meddle in other countries affairs. Therefore, when this Canadian air tries to invade the United States, it is psychologically unprepared for the task. In long finger like bands, the air collapses, forming flakes (which insults that friendly invader from the north) that land on the ground. Meteorologists call these fingers, plumes, thus further insulting this brave, albeit misguided, Canadian air.

In response to this invasion of Canadian air, the National Weather Service, an office of the US Department of Commerce, has decided not to include snowfall totals from lake effect snow events. This is based on a well established psychological principle for extinguishing behavior, called planned ignoring. It works with children in the store. When a child pesters for a treat and the parent gives in, it rewards the behavior and they beg and plead the next time they go shopping. If, however, a parent ignores the child’s begging and pleading, eventually the child will learn that the parental unit is not going to give into the requests, and the child eventually stops pestering.

The National Weather Service has been trying planned ignoring on the invading Canadian air for years. When asked if it is working, there is no comment. This is not actually typical government stone-walling or hiding of motives and facts; it is an integral part of planned ignoring. If a parent says to a child who is asking for a treat, “I am ignoring you,” then the parent is not actually ignoring the child, thus defeating the purpose. That is why there is no official record of lake effect snowfall by the government. They are simply ignoring it, hoping it will go away.

I think this planned ignoring might work. So the next time invading Canadian air flakes out over us, I am going to ignore it. I am sure it will go away.

Sometime in June.

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