'Paralyzing' snowstorm set to bury Buffalo, N.Y. under 3 feet of snow

Crack open the record books, because Buffalo, N.Y., is about to get socked by a major snowstorm.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a winter storm watch for the Buffalo area, warning that multiple feet of lake-effect snow could cripple the city and surrounding area.

“This will be the start of a prolonged lake-effect snow event which will likely include paralyzing snowfall for the Buffalo and Watertown areas late this week through the weekend,” the National Weather Service office in Buffalo wrote in its forecast discussion on Wednesday morning.

While Buffalo is no stranger to large amounts of snow, Global News meteorologist Anthony Farnell says this amount of snow this early in the season is definitely unusual.

“Residents in upstate New York will be measuring snowfall in feet over the coming days. Three feet (90 centimetres) is possible near Buffalo as a strong southwesterly flow transports very chilly air over the relatively warm Lake Erie waters,” he said.

Lake-effect snow develops when cold, dry air flows across the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes. Often, this air originates in Canada.

Farnell says the water temperatures in Lake Erie are still averaging over 10 C thanks to an unseasonably warm fall, and this is causing “ideal conditions” for significant lake-effect snow.

As the cold air travels over the water of the Great Lakes, warmth and moisture rise into the Earth’s lower atmosphere, resulting in thick, condensed clouds that have the ability to drop large amounts of snow.

“Parts of the Niagara region will also be severely impacted, with locations like Fort Erie getting up to 60 centimetres of snow by Sunday, with snowfall rates of five to 10 centimetres per hour for a time on Saturday,” says Farnell.

With this type of snow, he added, even plows and emergency crews have difficulty keeping up when combined with winds over 50 kilometres per hour.

The pattern bearing down on the area is similar to a snowstorm in November 2014, when areas around Buffalo were blanketed in nearly seven feet of snow, leaving cars completely buried and seeing some roofs collapse.

However, says Farnell, slight changes in the wind flow mean this week’s storm will likely be less severe, but a larger area will feel the effects of the winter wallop.

The snow is expected to start packing a punch Wednesday night, with accumulations of five to nine centimetres expected by Thursday morning. The snow will continue through Thursday and begin to intensify in the evening and persist for an extended period.

Crippling lake-effect snow storm possible this period,” the NWS Buffalo office wrote in its short-term forecast discussion for Thursday night through Friday night.

The NWS says the lake-effect snow bands will begin to oscillate north and south over the weekend, potentially impacting areas outside of Buffalo.

Travel, says The Weather Channel, will be “treacherous, if not impossible, at times” and whiteout conditions in some areas are almost guaranteed.

“You may want to change your travel plans in these areas during the height of the storm. If you must travel, let others know about your plans and carry a winter survival kit in your vehicle in case you become stranded,” The Weather Channel wrote on its website.

FILE - Buffalo Bills fans look on from snow covered seat prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Highmark Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Orchard Park, New York.

FILE - Buffalo Bills fans look on from snow-covered seat prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Highmark Stadium on Jan. 2, 2022 in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Kevin Hoffman / Getty Images

The potentially historic snowfall means football fans will no longer watch the Buffalo Bills play the Cleveland Browns at Highmark Stadium Sunday.

The Bills tweeted Thursday that “out of an abundance of caution” the game has been moved to Ford Field in Detroit.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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