Snowfall will be measured in feet, not inches, around Buffalo, New York, over the next few days as a potentially historic lake-effect snowstorm wallops the western part of the state.
- Serious warnings: Even the normally staid National Weather Service described the upcoming storm as “paralyzing.”
- Travel will be difficult to impossible, according to the weather service, which advises people to have an emergency kit in their vehicles before venturing out.
- How to prepare: Officials are urging people to have enough food and water for the long-duration event and to stay off the roads once the storm starts, AccuWeather said.
- Winds won’t help: Winds gusting up to 35 mph will add to the wintry misery.
In addition to western New York, lake-effect snow is likely over the next few days in western and Upper Michigan, northern Indiana, northeast Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania, Weather.com said.
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How much snow will fall in Buffalo?
While the weather service said up to 4 feet was possible in some areas, AccuWeather said an incredible 6 feet of snow was not outside the realm of possibility.
“Buffalo and its southern suburbs may receive as much as 3 to 6 feet of snow by Sunday,” AccuWeather meteorologist Matt Benz said, adding that the heaviest snow may fall over two stretches – Thursday night into Friday and Saturday into Saturday night. “These two periods will likely feature the worst conditions of this event.”
Snow could fall at rates of up to 4 inches an hour, AccuWeather said. The storm also could bring what’s known as thundersnow, a thunderstorm that produces snow instead of rain, forecasters warned.
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The weather service has issued a Lake Effect Snow Warning for the Buffalo area on Wednesday. It will stay in effect through the weekend.
The area includes Orchard Park, New York, where the Buffalo Bills are scheduled to play the Cleveland Browns Sunday afternoon in what could be a classic NFL snow game.
What is lake-effect snow?
Lake-effect snow, which can last only a few minutes or up to several days, develops from narrow bands of clouds that form when cold, dry arctic air passes over a large, relatively mild lake.
As the cold air passes over the unfrozen and “warm” waters of the Great Lakes, warmth and moisture are transferred into the lowest portion of the atmosphere, the weather service said. The air rises, and clouds form and grow into narrow bands that produce 2 to 3 inches of snow an hour or even more.
“These early-season events can be potent, as lake water temperatures are still quite mild compared to the middle to the latter part of winter,” Benz said. As of Tuesday morning, water temperatures for the Great Lakes were generally in the 50s. Meanwhile, air temperatures over the next few days will hover mainly in the 20s and 30s, forecasters said.
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Lake-effect snow events in the Buffalo region have wreaked havoc across the metro area before, closing schools and highways for days on end. A snowstorm in November 2014 resulted in 26 deaths, the Capital Weather Gang said, most of them from heart attacks while shoveling snow.