Science Course with Ryan Morse: What is a lake breeze?

Beyond The Forecast

(WFRV) – Many residents in Northeast Wisconsin escape the grueling summer heat by heading to the lakeshore. Besides the refreshingly cool Lake Michigan waters, air temperatures generally are cooler than what we see further inland.

That’s because of lake breezes. Not only can they cool off areas on the lakeshore, but they can initiate thunderstorms further inland. So how do these lake breezes form? 

Water heats slower than land. Over the course of a day, the land could get much warmer than the water, especially in the spring and summer. Air rises over the warming land, creating low pressure. Cooler lake air brings sinking air and high pressure. As a result, air flows from high to low pressure, creating our shallow lake breeze. 

They often form several hours after sunrise and dissipate close to sunset. 

In Northeast Wisconsin, the lake breeze forms along the Lake Michigan shoreline and can run all the way to the Fox River where it often breaks down if it gets that far. A breeze can also develop along the bay through the same process.

It’s tough to predict lake breezes. Two main factors meteorologists take into account is the difference between water and air temperature and prevailing wind speed.  

If the difference between land and water is large, think 20 to 40 degrees, lake breezes are more likely. 

Strong winds will disrupt the formation of lake breezes, so the calmer the wind, the more likely a lake breeze will form.

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