Heavy snow that hit parts of western New York state will continue into Friday, potentially causing the worst of the historic storm to bring down trees and damage property.
“The snow will cause zero visibility, disrupt traffic, damage infrastructure and cripple hard-hit communities,” the National Weather Service said Thursday. “Very cold air will accompany this event with temperatures less than 20 degrees below normal forecast by the weekend.”
“Historical snowfall in excess of 4 feet is possible around Buffalo,” it added Friday.
About 6 million people in five Great Lakes states from Wisconsin to New York are under snow warnings Friday, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said. According to the National Weather Service, snow produced through lake effect will persist in downwind areas of the Great Lakes through Sunday.
In New York, places east of Lakes Erie and Ontario could see snowfall rates in excess of 3 inches per hour, accompanied by occasional lightning and gusty winds, the weather service warned.
“Snowfall falling with that intensity is creating a dangerous lack of visibility on the roads,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday, declaring a state of emergency for 11 states.
“When it gets that low, it’s almost impossible to clear the road to make it safe to travel on,” Hochul said. “It won’t be safe for motorists to get back on the road for a significant amount of time.”
As of Thursday afternoon, commercial traffic has been banned for about 130 miles from the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) to the Pennsylvania border in the Rochester and Buffalo area, Hochul’s office said. Other portions of major interstates — including the 90, 290 and 990 — are also closed.
Urging residents to be cautious this weekend, Hochul described the storm as a “major, major” snowfall event that could be as life-threatening as the November 2014 blizzard that killed 20 people in the Buffalo region.
Also, officials in New York’s Erie County, including Buffalo, declared a state of emergency and banned driving from Thursday night.
“(Storm) lake effect snow is very heavy and can cause downed trees and damage to vehicles, property or power lines. Watch where you park and be aware of your surroundings if going out,” Erie County officials wrote online.
The storm’s heaviest snow is expected to fall in the Buffalo area, which could pile up more than 4 feet for a forecast not seen in more than 20 years. The city’s three-day snowfall total of 56.1 inches occurred in December 2001, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
In fact, depending on the rate of snowfall, Buffalo can see a month’s worth of snow in a matter of hours. That would make this the snowiest November since 2000, Miller added, adding that the city received 45.6 inches during the entire month.
Already, residents of Williamstown, Oswego County, near Lake Ontario, saw 24 inches of snow by Thursday evening, the weather service said. In neighboring Oneida County, some spots received 14 inches of snow in the 24 hours before Thursday evening, according to the weather service.
Miller said Friday alone could bring more than 2 feet of snow, making it one of the three snowiest days on record in Buffalo.
“Heavy lake effect snow” hourly snowfall rates from Lake Erie of 2-3 will continue this evening east of the Buffalo metro area east of Batavia and into Oswego County off Lake Ontario,” the National Weather Service in Buffalo said. said Thursday the night
“An additional 2-3 feet of snow accumulation is expected down Lakes Erie and Ontario, and 8-12″ is possible down the other 3 lakes by Sunday morning,” it added Friday.
Lake effect snow occurs when very cold, windy conditions occur on a relatively warm lake — meaning the air is zero degrees and the lake can be 40 degrees, Miller explained. The temperature conflict creates instability, which allows more extreme cold weather to occur.
Due to a weather emergency, Sunday’s NFL game between the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns at New York’s Orchard Park has been moved to Detroit, the league announced Thursday.
Other areas affected by the storm include the Upper Peninsula and parts of Michigan’s western Lower Peninsula, where strong winds and heavy snow will also cause zero visibility and unsafe travel conditions.