Thursday’s heavy snow that hit parts of western New York state will continue into Friday, when the worst of a potentially historic storm could cause downed trees and property damage.
“Snowfall will create near-zero visibility, difficult to impossible travel, damage to infrastructure and paralyze the hardest-hit communities,” the National Weather Service said Thursday. “This event will be accompanied by very cold air, with temperatures as low as 20 degrees below normal expected through the weekend.”
Areas east of Lake Erie and Ontario could see snowfall rates of more than 3 inches per hour, accompanied by occasional lightning and gusty winds, the weather service warned.
“The level of snow falling at that intensity is what is dangerous because of the lack of visibility on the roads,” New York Gov. Cathy Hochul said Thursday as she declared a state of emergency in 11 counties.
“When it comes down to that speed, it’s almost impossible to clear the road to make it safe to travel on,” Hochul said. “It won’t be safe for drivers to get back on the roads for a significant amount of time.”
As of Thursday afternoon, commercial traffic has been closed for about 130 miles of the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) in Rochester and Buffalo counties to the Pennsylvania border, Hochul’s office said. In addition, other major interstates including the 90, 290 and 990 were also closed.
He urged residents to exercise caution this weekend, with Hochul describing 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 area.
Additionally, officials in Erie County, New York, which includes Buffalo, also declared a state of emergency and banned driving beginning Thursday night.
“(The storm’s) lake-induced snow is very heavy and can cause tree limbs to fall and damage vehicles, property or power lines. Watch where you park and be aware of your surroundings when outside,” Erie County officials wrote online.
The storm’s heaviest snow is expected to hit the Buffalo, New York, area, where more than 4 feet could accumulate, a historic forecast not seen in more than 20 years. The city’s highest three-day snowfall is 56.1 inches, which occurred in December 2001, according to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller.
And given the rapid rate of snowfall, Buffalo can see a month’s worth of snow in just a few hours. That could make this month the snowiest November since 2000, when the city totaled 45.6 inches for the entire month, Miller added.
Already Thursday evening, residents of Williamstown in Oswego County near Lake Ontario saw 24 inches of snow, according to the weather service.
Some areas in neighboring Oneida County received 14 inches of snow Thursday night, according to the weather service.
Friday alone could bring more than 2 feet of snow, making it one of Buffalo’s snowiest days, according to Miller.
“Heavy lake-effect snow from Lake Erie at snow rates of 2-3″ per hour will continue to make for extremely difficult travel this evening for the Buffalo metro area east to Batavia, as well as the Oswego area near Lake Ontario,” the National Weather Service said. in Buffalo said Thursday night
Lake-effect snow occurs when very cold, windy conditions build up over a relatively warm lake, meaning the lake can be 40 degrees while the air is below zero, Miller explained. The temperature bump causes instability, which allows for the cheapest winter weather.
Due to a weather emergency, Sunday’s NFL game at Orchard Park, N.Y., between the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns has been moved to Detroit, the league announced Thursday.
About 6 million people were under snow warnings Thursday across the five Great Lakes states, from Wisconsin to New York, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said. Lake-effect snow will continue into Sunday in areas downwind of the Great Lakes, the National Weather Service said.
Other areas affected by the storm include parts of the Upper Peninsula and western Lower Peninsula of Michigan, where gusty winds and heavy snow will also lead to near-zero visibility and unsafe travel conditions.