(WKBN) – Lake effect snow develops when cold air moves across warm water. The downwind side of a lake effect area is known as a snowbelt.

This process can be light, or extreme, depending on the difference in the air temperature and the water.

As of Thursday afternoon, Lake Erie’s water temperature ranged from 46° in Toledo, Ohio to 49° in Erie, Pennsylvania. The water temperature off of Cleveland, Ohio was 51°.

These readings are pretty close to normal for this time of the year.

Below is the average water temperature in Lake Erie near Cleveland, Ohio throughout the year:

(Courtesy: National Weather Service in Cleveland, Ohio).

Why the heavy snow will develop

The water temperatures on Lake Erie are not too far from normal. The air temperature above the lake is well below normal this week, and that is playing a huge role in the development of heavy lake-effect snow.

Colder air will continue to push across Lake Erie through the end of the week and into the weekend.

The flow of the wind will use the entire length of Lake Erie, which will help contribute to a very intense band of snow. This band will act like a firehose and spray into extreme northeast Ohio, northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York.

The water in Lake Erie is ice-free right now, so it’s open to releasing moisture, in turn, making snow.

Cities from Ashtabula, Ohio to Erie, Pennsylvania to Buffalo, New York will receive heavy snow from this weather pattern.

The intense lake-effect band will last for a long period of time from late this week into the weekend.

How much snow will fall?

Some areas have already picked up a foot of snow. Isolated spots are closing in on 2 feet.

The intense band will develop again through Friday and last into the weekend. This band of snow will produce snowfall rates of several inches per hour and gusty wind blowing around. There will likely be thundersnow, too.

There is a good chance that many locations located under this intense band of snow will have several feet of snow accumulate before the pattern shifts.

If you have plans to travel along the shore of Lake Erie through the end of the week or the weekend, you may want to check on locations ahead of time to make sure all is safe before you make your trip.

The Cleveland Browns are playing the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. This storm could play a big role in that game.

Will the heavy Lake Effect snow event impact Youngstown, Ohio?

The heaviest snow will stay toward the shore of Lake Erie. It will stay cold around Youngstown, Ohio through the end of the week and into the weekend. The heaviest snow stays north.

See the latest forecast here.