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Heavy snow expected to make morning commute difficult

Pick your poison.

The bone-chilling cold from the weekend is gone, but a strong storm system arriving Tuesday could bring between 12 and 18 inches of heavy, wet snow across Western New York, the National Weather Service reported.

A winter storm warning is posted through 7 p.m. Tuesday and calls for “heavy snow” for Western New York. Forecasts show the heaviest snow is expected in the early morning hours of Tuesday and for the morning commute.

“Difficult travel conditions” could result in visibility of less than a quarter mile, according to the Weather Service, and highway chiefs were keeping a close watch on this latest salvo from Mother Nature.

“We added staff on tonight,” Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak said late Monday. “We’re able to put out more crews and since everything’s wet out there we’re able to do some extra salting to get ready for the morning commute.”

Snowfall was expected to be heaviest between 1 and 7 a.m. Tuesday.

“Everything’s ready to go,” Town of Tonawanda Highway Superintendent William E. Swanson said of the 22 pieces of equipment in his snow-clearing arsenal. “As the weather progresses and gets worse we’ll call more people in.”

Stepniak said he called in his first shift early, at 3 a.m., to overlap with the overnight shift and allow 30 to 40 crews to blitz roadways before Tuesday morning’s commute. He was thankful for relatively warmer temperatures near the freezing mark.

“Salt is much more effective in these temperatures than when it’s 15 below or 10 below,” he said of last weekend’s subzero freeze.

The other good news for motorists, schoolchildren and parents is that schools are off for winter break this week so there won’t be the usual school bus traffic on area roadways.

Precipitation potential is pegged at 100 percent through 11 a.m. Tuesday with northerly winds and a temperature range between 30 and 32 degrees. Storm snowfall totals are expected to range between 6 inches and a foot in and around metro Buffalo, with higher amounts between 12 and 18 inches just east toward Batavia and Rochester.

The weather-maker is being generated by a passing low that will pass from the southern Appalachians to the Adirondack region by late Tuesday. It’s expected to pull moisture from as far away as the Gulf of Mexico northward, according to the weather service.

Commercial airplane flights to and from cities along the Eastern Seaboard such as Newark, Philadelphia and Baltimore were listed as cancelled late Monday at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

“Significant accumulations” of snow on the cold side of the system and “heavy rain on the warm side” is expected. It’s likely to be a wetter, heavier snow more difficult to brush off cars and shovel than lighter, fluffier lake-effect snow.

“A few inches of this is going to take more effort than typical lake-effect snow,” said meteorologist Kirk Apffel of the NWS Buffalo office. “Be careful not to over exert.”

It could also be an issue for plows.

“If it’s a really heavy snow it slows us down because when they go to turn the corners they sometimes have to back up because of the weight of the snow,” said Swanson.

Areas farther east in the Finger Lakes and near eastern Lake Ontario will see early snowfall that will likely switch over to all rain, forecasters project. However, the Buffalo metro area and all of Western New York “will likely see all snow for this event and the best potential for the highest snow accumulations.”

In between those two areas, for the western Finger Lakes and Genesee Valley, it will start out as snow but switch over to a “wintry mix” of snow, sleet and possibly freezing rain as some warmer air from the east mixes into the storm, the weather service reported.

The temperature will seem much warmer by comparison to the last couple of days. Monday’s high was 27 degrees as of 9 p.m. but forecast to rise another degree or two. That temperature was expected to remain steady overnight with a forecast high Tuesday of 31 degrees in Buffalo, just cold enough to produce the heavy snow across the region.

The winter storm comes on the heels of a frigid Valentine’s weekend that saw temperatures drop to as low as minus 12 degrees at 8:11 a.m. Sunday. It was the coldest day in Buffalo since Jan. 17, 1982 when it dipped to minus 16 degrees.

Last February – the coldest month on record in Buffalo – the temperature dropped as low as minus 10 twice. That was exactly one year ago on Feb. 15 and 16, 2015.

Sunday morning’s low missed the all-time record for Valentine’s Day by a single degree. That record, minus 13, was set in 1943.

It was the second straight day the mercury dropped into negative territory and the only two days of the season thus far. Saturday’s low was minus 4 degrees.

After the storm system leaves late Tuesday, forecasters said another “westerly flow” of cold air cuts back across the Great Lakes region and will bring “wraparound moisture” that could result in more snowshowers for the region Wednesday and Wednesday night.

But, first, we’ll have to slog through another wet, wintry blast. And Stepniak offered motorists a piece of advice officials often repeat this time of year:

“People should be alert and give themselves some extra time,” he said. “That’s the big thing, giving yourself that extra time, leaving a little earlier.”

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com and jpopiolkowski@buffnews.com