There’s also the sheer volume of it. And upstate New York will tell you about their experiences with lake effect as well, especially in the Buffalo/Niagara region.
It’s a matter of storms getting a quick boost of strength picking up water off the lakes. If it’s too cold and the lakes are deep-frozen, it doesn’t happen, but in that 20-30F range, oh hell yeah, it’s on.
Lake Erie is one of the worst due to how shallow it is. Northeast Ohio to Buffalo NY end up slammed at some point almost every year. (And Canada loves giving its cold winds to the south right across it!)
I hear about southwestern Ontario getting lake effect snow from Lake Huron all the time. It’s not unusual for London Ontario to get 12 to 18 inches of snow due to lake effect while Windsor (or Detroit MI just across the border) just 1.5 hours south get nothing. Being a big fan of snow but living in Windsor, I’m always disappointed by our relative lack of snow.
Lake effect requires a really big lake. Something the size of the Great Lakes. We get it here in Rochester, NY too.
The amount of water that can be carried in the air depends on the temperature—the warmer the air, the more water it can hold.
The lakes cool more slowly than the ground. So, lake effect happens when winter winds blow over the warm lake, warms, and carries away moisture from the lake. As it moves over land, it cools, at which point its carrying capacity falls, so it dumps the moisture a short distance offshore of the lake—lake effect snow.
In the past, lake effect snows tended to happen earlier in the winter, and would taper off as the lakes froze and thus prevented the air from absorbing the moisture. As winters grow warmer, the lakes freeze more slowly/less completely, so lake effect runs later into the winters.
This differs from storm systems where moisture is picked up hundreds of miles away and transported by the storm elsewhere. Lake effect is localized, caused by and producing precipitation near the lake.