Temperature-wise, the worst of the Blizzard of 2014 may be over.
Officially, the thermometer bottomed out at minus 5 degrees around 10 a.m. at the National Weather Service office at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga, tying a record set in 1942. Combined with gusts up to 30 mph, it produced the worst wind chill of the storm – minus 28.
While temperatures crept back above zero later in the day – the reading at 8 p.m. was 8 with a wind chill of minus 13 – the blizzard morphed into a two-headed monster.
The lake effect snow band that slammed the Southtowns overnight and whitened out Buffalo and its suburbs during the day today turned into double trouble.
“It’s split into two bands,” said Jon Hitchcock, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo.
The northern neck of this snow-and-wind spewing beast is snaking over Grand Island, the northern suburbs of Buffalo and into Niagara and Orleans counties.
The southern appendage is unleashing its fury over the Southtowns, up to about South Buffalo and out toward Genesee County.
The unusual transformation was likely caused by the rapid freeze of the lake, which until just a couple of weeks ago was only about 40 percent frozen over.
The extreme cold has left the western two-thirds of Lake Erie a sea of ice.
“I’ve never seen the ice expand this quickly,” Hitchcock said.
The lake effect snow monster, eager to lap up more water, finds the open water that is left and that’s probably how it split into two.
But those bands are expected to slowly drift southward late tonight and into the morning.
Another four to six inches of snow will fall in the most persistent bands during the day, Hitchcock said.
But, he said, the snow fall isn’t really what’s causing the problems.
“It’s the blowing snow,” he said.
The blowing snow was causing whiteouts all over Erie County, and blizzard conditions are expected to last through Wednesday morning.
Wind chills will remain bitterly cold through about midnight but will begin to rise slowly by morning when it will still be in the subzero range.
The bitter cold and wind were causing another dangerous situation in the Upper Niagara River as an ice jam formed between the Power Authority intakes and Cayuga Island in Niagara Falls.
Some minor flooding was reported on some streets on the Cayuga Island and in Grand Island. Authorities are also keeping an eye on potential flooding of low-lying areas of the Robert Moses Parkway under the North Grand Island Bridge.
“Residents should monitor water levels closely and be prepared to seek higher ground,” a warning from the National Weather Service read.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said that ice breakers from both the United States and Canada have been out since 9:30 a.m. He said Police Chief Bryan DalPorto reported to him that the ice jam on the river is “unprecedented.” Police will be stationing an officer on Cayuga Island and the city will also be stationing crews from public works.
There’s a flood gauge at the LaSalle Yacht Club on 68th Street at Buffalo Avenue which is indicating no damage so far, Dyster said.
Dyster said an evacuation is not warranted at this point but authorities will keep a close eye on the situation.
On Grand Island, the North end of East River Road had water creeping up onto lawns. It was the same situation at Baseline and Long Roads. Woods Creek was filled to the top this afternoon.
A fire destroyed an Orchard Park apartment building this afternoon, as firefighters not only had to battle the blaze but the blizzard conditions that froze their waterlines.
Firefighters and police were still on the scene of a working fire this afternoon at a 12-unit apartment complex at 60 Hunters Ridge Road, which runs between Southwestern Boulevard and Baker Road.
“Everyone has been evacuated – no injuries,” said Orchard Park Police Chief Mark Pacholec.
Last night, the blizzard’s eye was over the Southtowns with the highest snow accumulation of about 14 inches in Orchard Park and Marilla.
Hitchcock said the line along Hamburg to Orchard Park and over to East Aurora and Marilla should expect “a significant amount more this afternoon.”
Storm totals will max out at about two feet, Hitchcock said.
The blizzard blasting the region has been so severe that three state highway department plows were stuck on Route 5 in Lackawanna near Ohio Street on the inbound side this morning. They were at a dead standstill for at least 15 minutes because of white out conditions.
Erie County dispatched 24 plows today to start clearing the mounds of snow that have piled onto roads, but County Executive Mark Poloncarz said in a morning press conference that four plows went off the road.
Now, the plows can only concentrate on the perimeter of the storm.
Travel bans, imposed late Monday, remained in effect this morning in Lackawanna, West Seneca, Hamburg, Blasdell, Orchard Park, Eden Brant, Colden, Aurora and East Aurora as well as Evans and Angola.
Officials declared a states of emergency in many towns and villages in Southern Erie County, as all as the county itself.
Meanwhile, the eastbound Youngmann Expressway was closed from the Sheridan Ave. exit to the Thruway midday today and both sideds of the Robert Moses Parkwaqy was shut down between Buffalo Ave. and the LaSalle Expressway due to flooding that began at 4 p.m.
The New York State Thruway, which was closed to commercial traffic at 3 p.m. Monday and then to all traffic at 8 p.m., remained shut down between Williamsville and Ripley until further notice. At 1 p.m., the closure was extended to Exit 46 at Henrietta, south of Rochester, according to Troop T officials.
The 219 and 400 remained closed, as did the Skyway in downtown Buffalo.
The outbreak of cold air is driven by the shift in the “polar vortex,” meaning that the air mass being pulled into the region – and even down as far south as the Gulf of Mexico – is originating in Siberia, Russia. It’s being pulled over the North Pole and into the North American continent.
Meteorologist Bill Hibbert said the event tends to be a cyclical, roughly every 20 or so years.
The last time a blizzard was declared in Buffalo Niagara was 1993.