Heavy snowfall that has pounded parts of western New York state will persist Friday, when the worst of the potentially historic storm may cause trees to topple and damage property.
“The snowfall will produce near zero visibility, difficult to impossible travel, damage to infrastructure, and paralyze the hardest-hit communities,” the National Weather Service said Thursday. “Very cold air will accompany this event, with temperatures 20 degrees below normal forecast by the weekend.”
“Historic snowfall exceeding 4 feet is likely around Buffalo,” it added Friday.
About 6 million people in six Great Lakes states – from Wisconsin to New York – are under snow alerts Friday, CNN Meteorologist Haley Brink said. Snow produced through lake-effect will continue through Sunday in areas downwind of the Great Lakes, according to the National Weather Service.
Friday morning, the heaviest bands of snow were off Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, bringing snowfall rates of 2 inches per hour to cities in and around Buffalo and Watertown in New York.
As the region braces for more:
• Commercial traffic has been banned on some roads, though some bans were replaced by travel advisories Friday morning.
• Flights have been canceled at the Buffalo airport, which already got more than a foot of snow.
• The NFL moved Sunday’s Buffalo Bills game against the Cleveland Browns to Detroit.
• Parts of Oswego County near Lake Ontario received 2 feet of snow by Thursday evening.
• The Buffalo area was expecting up to 4 to 5 feet. Hamburg, around 15 miles south of Buffalo, had almost 34 inches by 8 a.m.
Buffalo public schools are closed Friday. So are Erie County services.
• Places east of Lakes Erie and Ontario could get 3 inches or more of snow per hour, with occasional lightning and gusty winds.
Imploring residents to take caution this weekend, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul described the storm as a “major, major” snowfall event that could be as life-threatening as the November 2014 snowstorm that claimed the lives of 20 people in the Buffalo region.
“That level of snow coming down with that intensity is what creates the dangerousness the lack of ability to see on the roads,” Hochul said Thursday as she declared a state of emergency for 11 counties.
“When its coming down at that rate, it is almost impossible to clear the road to make it safe to travel,” she said. “It will not be safe for a considerable amount of time for motorists to go back on the roads.”
Commercial traffic was banned Thursday afternoon on about 130 miles of the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) in the Rochester and Buffalo area to the Pennsylvania border, Hochul’s office said. Other parts of major interstates – including 90, 290 and 990 – were also shut down.
Further, officials in New York’s Erie County – which includes Buffalo – also declared a state of emergency and banned driving beginning Thursday night.
“The lake effect snow from (the storm) is very heavy and may cause tree branches to fall and damage vehicles, property or powerlines. Watch where you park, and be aware of your surroundings if going outside,” Erie County officials wrote online.
The storm’s most intense snow is expected to lash the Buffalo area, where more than 4 feet could pile, making for a forecast not seen in more than 20 years. The city’s highest three-day snowfall is 56.1 inches, which occurred in December 2001, CNN Meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
Indeed, given the rate of snowfall, Buffalo may see a month’s worth of snow in only a few hours. That could make this month the snowiest November since 2000, when 45.6 inches in total fell in the city during the entire month, Miller added.
Already, residents of Williamstown in Oswego County near Lake Ontario saw 24 inches of snow as of Thursday evening, according to the weather service. In neighboring Oneida County, some spots were blanketed with 14 inches of snow in the 24 hours before Thursday evening, per the weather service.
Friday alone could bring more than 2 feet of snow, which would make it one of the top three snowiest days on record in Buffalo, according to Miller.
“Heavy lake effect snow off Lake Erie with 2-3” per hour snowfall rates will continue to result in extremely difficult travel this evening for the Buffalo Metro area east to Batavia, and also in Oswego County off Lake Ontario,” the National Weather Service in Buffalo said Thursday night.
“Additional accumulations of 2-3 feet of snow are expected downwind of lakes Erie and Ontario while 8-12” are likely downwind of the other 3 lakes by Sunday morning,” it added Friday.
Lake-effect snow happens when very cold, windy conditions form over a relatively warm lake – meaning the lake might be 40 degrees while the air is zero degrees, Miller explained. The temperature clash creates instability, which allows for the most extreme winter weather to occur.
Other areas affected by the storm include parts of the Upper Peninsula and the western Lower Peninsula of Michigan, where gusty winds and heavy snow will also cause near zero visibility and unsafe travel conditions.