In terms of the lake-effect snow alone, with as much as 3 feet expected in some areas, the storm battering Western New York today and Tuesday could qualify as a once-in-a-winter storm.
But when the high winds and ghastly wind-chill temperatures are tossed into this wintry mix, this becomes a much more dangerous storm, perhaps a once-in-a-decade event, National Weather Service meteorologists said this morning.
That’s because the high snow totals will be accompanied by sustained winds of 20 to 30 mph and wind-chill readings down to about 30 degrees below zero.
“As far as the driving conditions go, this may be a once-in-a-10-year storm,” meteorologist Jon Hitchcock said.
The main culprit will be the snow, with the bullseye of the storm expected to slam into the southern half of Buffalo, the immediate Southtowns and parts of Genesee, Wyoming, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.
“There’s going to be a really sharp dividing line at the northern end of the snow band,” Hitchcock said, before referring to the hardest-hit areas. “Our best guess is that the southern half of the city and the immediate Southtowns will get the most.”
Other areas expected to receive heavy snowfall are the southwest corner of Genesee County, the northwest corner of Wyoming and some northern edges of Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.
While these numbers clearly can change, the National Weather Service was forecasting that the worst-hit areas could receive 3 to 5 inches today, 6 to 12 tonight, 9 to 17 Tuesday and 1 to 3 Tuesday night. That adds up to roughly 1½ to 3 feet.
Even a slight change in wind direction obviously can shift the path of the lake-effect snow, but meteorologists expect this storm to pummel an area slightly north of the region that typically gets the most snow, Hitchcock said.
That persistent snow band may move around a bit and may brush Buffalo’s northern suburbs, but they’re not going to get as much snow, Hitchcock said. And the forecast called for Niagara and Orleans counties to survive pretty much unscathed.
Tonight’s low temperature in the metro area is expected to be 2 below zero, though it will be much colder in the outlying regions.
Authorities are most concerned about the driving conditions. With temperatures so cold, the snow will be light and thus easy to blow around, especially when driven by wind gusts up to 45 mph. So many roads are expected to be impassable, and the nasty wind-chill temperatures could be extremely dangerous for anyone stranded for any length of time.
“If you live where the snow band is going to be the worst, I recommend staying home if you can,” Hitchcock said.
For those who need to drive, he advised them to pack blankets and warm clothing and make sure their gas tanks are filled.
Officially, the weather service early today issued a lake-effect snow warning for much of the area, from 11 a.m. today to 6 a.m. Wednesday and a wind-chill warning for parts of the region from 6 p.m. today to 6 p.m. Tuesday.