What the heck is a ‘Clipper’, anyway?

This week we’ve seen three winter storm systems – known as Alberta Clippers – bring snow showers, gusty winds and cold temperatures to east-central Ohio.

Alberta Clippers, or simply, ‘clippers’ , are fast-moving areas of low pressure that quickly develop and cross the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes areas. Clippers are usually weak as storm systems go but they can pack a punch accompanied by biting wind, drastic drops in temperature and a quick thump of one to three inches of snow.

These storms originate in Alberta, Canada – hence that part of their name. Clippers then get tangled up in the eastward moving jet stream and make their way towards the Great Lakes.

As we’ve seen this week, Alberta Clippers can occur frequently during the winter months. Generally, though, they produce little snow in central and southern portions of Ohio.  The cold fronts that often accompany clippers can bring very cold air into an area once they cross. It’s not unusual for temperatures to be 30 degrees colder behind one of these boundaries.

Snow with clippers is mostly front loaded keeping the heaviest snowfall along and north of the low pressure center. With this feature, the track of the storm north/south can have big implications on what areas get the heaviest snowfall. The north/south position will also determine where and how much lake effect snow is created by the storm as it passes over or near the Great Lakes.

Snow associated with an Alberta Clipper will most likely be heaviest ahead and north of the low pressure center.

Lake effect snow bands and squalls are nearly impossible to predict with any accuracy much more than a few hours out.

The “Clipper” part of their name comes from a fast sailing ship popular in the mid and latter part of the 1800s. Clipper ships were small and could only carry a limited amount of freight. With a large total sail area, they were the fastest cargo ships of the time.