Blizzard ends but frigid air continues - The Buffalo News

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Blizzard ends but frigid air continues

And, just like that, it was over.

Buffalo Niagara absorbed a 12-hour sock in the face from a wild, second blizzard in three months Wednesday.

By about 9 p.m., the storm was winding down, according to forecasters at the National Weather Service, who downgraded the blizzard warning to a winter weather advisory in northern Erie, Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties.

“It was just a faster moving storm,” said Bob Hamilton, meteorologist, of the difference between this blizzard and the one that landed on the Queen City from Jan. 6-8.

Faster moving, but prodigious in its snowfall output.

As of just before midnight Wednesday, there was a record 13.8 inches of snow “and growing” recorded Wednesday at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Hamilton said. By comparison, the January blizzard brought a total of 17.6 inches over a three day period.

The 13.8 inches of snow was not only a record snowfall for any March 12, breaking the previous mark of 7.3 inches set in 1959, but it shattered the daily snowfall total for an already snowy winter season. The previous high was 8.8 inches in one day on Feb. 5.

The blizzard warning, which was taken down about 9 p.m. locally, remained posted through Thursday morning from Rochester to Oswego, due mainly to blustery winds that were expected to continue hampering visibility.

The temperature, which was dropping throughout Wednesday, from a high of 39 degrees just after midnight plunged to 11 degrees by 1 a.m. today with a wind chill value of minus 4. Tonight’s overnight low was forecast to be 6 degrees. Another 1-3 inches of more snow was also expected before all was said and done Thursday, according to the forecast.

Wednesday’s snow was enough to vault Buffalo into third place in the nationwide National Snow Globe contest of cities with more than 100,000 population. With the 13 inches, the city has recorded 119.8 inches so far in the 2013-14 winter season, about two feet more than normal for a winter.

It’s now less than an inch from creeping into the Top Ten snowiest winters on record, and will likely accomplish ninth place by morning.

Tenth place is the winter of 1969-70 with 120.5 inches. Ninth place is 1944-45 with 120.7 inches.

Meanwhile, lows tonight are expected to bottom out in the single digits with wind chill values as low as minus-10 degrees, thanks to a north wind gusting over 30 mph.

Highs on Thursday will remain cold – near 15 degrees – and wind chills, fueled by a northwest wind of 15-17 mph, will make it continue to feel as low as 10 degrees below zero.

David Zaff, another weather service meteorologist, said the strong gusts of 40 to 50 mph that have buffeted the region today, combined with terrible visibility from the heavy snow and blowing snow that have nearly blinded the region over the past few hours, officially qualified today’s storm as an official blizzard at about 1 p.m.

The peak wind gust at the airport this afternoon was 43 mph, according to weather service data.

Bombarding claps of thunder snow about the same time seemed to herald what meteorologists had been warning us about all day: a blizzard was imminent.

For a genuine blizzard, three conditions are needed: visibility of a quarter-mile or less due to snow; winds sustained, or in gusts, of over 35 miles an hour; and, finally, Zaff said, “Those two events need to occur for three hours.”

We just went through this – in early January.

“This is the first time – at least in the last 40 years,” Jon Hitchcock, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Buffalo, said of two blizzards within two months.

“As far as anybody knows,” he said, “this is the first time we’ve had two in one season.”

NBC’s national weatherman Al Roker even weighed in today, tweeting that it’s the “first time Buffalo has had two blizzards in one winter in just over 130 years of daily record keeping at the Buffalo Airport.”

More thundersnow may be heard through the afternoon as heavy, wet snow – falling at a rate of about an inch to two inches per hour – and gusty wind make for some miserable conditions. Peak winds of 47 mph were recorded in Dunkirk and 49 mph along the lake shore.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for Erie, Niagara and most Western New York counties.

“These areas are expected to continue to receive heavy snow that may accumulate at rates of around one to two inches per hour, which will make it difficult for plows to keep some roads clear,” he stated. “New Yorkers in these areas should exercise caution until the worst of the storm has passed.”

Travel advisories – not outright bans – were issued for all of Erie County and Niagara County by noon today. Erie county announced at around 9:40 p.m. that the travel advisory will be lifted at 4 a.m. Thursday. Niagara County’s travel advisory will also be lifted at 4 a.m. Lackawanna had a temporary driving ban, which has since been lifted.

The Skyway was closed as of 2:15. Reports from county and state transportation workers say that routes 400 and 219 are in poor condition. It reopened at around 8:30 p.m.

Most of the inbound and outgoing flights at the Buffalo airport Wednesday were canceled as the storm system cut a wide path through the eastern half of the country.

Interestingly, the Buffalo Sabres flight to Raleigh/Durham, N.C. was one of the few scheduled to take off this afternoon, at least according to an afternoon tweet by Sabres’ defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. The Sabres are scheduled to play the Hurricanes Thursday.

People around the region were paying attention to the weather.

Schools, courts and some offices closed for the day. All state, county and city courts in Erie, Niagara and Orleans counties were closed today, while state and county courts in Genesee County and Batavia City Court closed early along with other state and county courts in Wyoming, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.

Most organizations – from Erie County public libraries to schools to Buffalo City Hall – were closed Wednesday well in advance of the forecasted storm.

Conditions didn’t look so bad early this morning.

Roads were wet and clear, easily drivable. Coffee shops and businesses were open.

“We are open, at both locations,” said Ty Reynolds, owner of Mazurek’s Bakery on South Park Avenue in the city. “We wanted to make sure anybody in our neighborhood can get access to doughnuts and bread – stock up on sweet treats.”

But by about 9 a.m. condition began to deteriorate rapidly.

Visibility got worse and worse. Winds picked up. Snowfall picked up. And temperatures have “been on a slow decline,” said meteorologist David Zaff.

“And they’ll continue to drop,” he added.

At the state DOT shop at Elm and Oak streets, crews were ready for the oncoming storm.

“When the National Weather Service took it up to a blizzard warning, you immediately saw the closings of schools, and that’s the smartest thing to do. That resulted in a light traffic this morning,” said Albert Young, supervisor at the shop, which maintains state routes 33, 198, 5 and Harlem Road.

At Mazurek’s Bakery, owner Reynolds was looking at the storm as an opportunity, as he stocked his shelves with custard doughnuts, white creams, peanut sticks and faschnachts.

“Doughnuts,” Reynolds said, of what his customers would want today. “Doughnuts and coffee.”

News Staff Reporters Lou Michel, Jill Terreri and James Staas contributed to this story. email:

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