Up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) of lake-effect snow could bury parts of Western New York and other states by the end of the weekend, forecasters said on Thursday, paralyzing the city of Buffalo and other areas downwind of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
Snow could fall at the rate of 3 inches (8 cm) an hour in some locations to the south and east of the two Great Lakes starting late on Thursday, said Liz Jurkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo.
The squalls could persist through Sunday, creating sporadic bursts of intense snowfall along narrow bands. The heaviest totals are likely in Buffalo, the weather service said on its website, stressing it was difficult to predict exactly where the snow bands would develop.
“What we are talking about is a major, major storm,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul, said on Thursday, a day after she declared a state of emergency in the Buffalo area.
“This is considered an extreme weather event. That means it is dangerous. It is life threatening,” she said at a press briefing.
By Thursday morning, snow squalls already carpeted parts of New York southeast of Lake Erie with 10 inches of snow.
“The heavy stuff is expected to start by 10 p.m. tonight,” Jurkowski said. “It will be hard for the snow plows to even keep up with. It’s potentially paralyzing snow.”
Visibility is expected to drop to zero, creating “white-out” conditions and making travel nearly impossible.
With blinding conditions expected, motorists were advised to stay off the roads starting late Thursday afternoon.
More than 350 snowplows were on standby to help clear roads and 5,700 utility workers were ready to restore power, Hochul said.
Snowfall of such proportions are not uncommon for Western New York in November, when the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes can mix with frigid air in the upper atmosphere dropping down from the Arctic, the NWS said.
While the storm is not expected to be one for the weather history books, Jurkowski said it could rank in the top five snow accumulations over the last 20 years.
In November 2014, an epic barrage of lake-effect snow deposited more than 5 feet of powder east of Buffalo but dropped just a few inches of snow a few miles to the north, according to the NWS, illustrating the highly localized nature of the phenomenon.