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Snow forecast: 'High-impact event centered around evening commute'

Today’s afternoon commuters could run into “near blizzard conditions at times” on area roads as heavy lake-effect snow is forecast to hit the metro Buffalo area, according to the National Weather Service.

[What to expect the next 36 hours]

The heaviest snows are expected to strike northern Erie and Genesee Counties starting in the early afternoon today.

The weather service reported in its latest forecast discussion this morning that lake-effect snow "will intensify in place over the city of Buffalo and the Northtowns to near North Tonawanda this afternoon."

"Expect the snow to develop after 1 p.m., and becoming heavy (1 to 2 inches per hour or more) by 3 to 4 p.m.," forecasters reported.

It won't last too long, but the biggest impact will be for the evening commute in metro Buffalo.

"While we are expected only a few hours of heavy snow across the Buffalo metro area, it will come at prime rush hour with the worst between 4 and 7 p.m.," forecasters stated.

To make matters worse, forecasters explained "will be the gusty winds, producing blowing and drifting snow, with near blizzard conditions."

A shift in wind direction after about 7 p.m. is forecast to pull the snow band southward for the evening hours, through the Southtowns into the Southern Tier.

At 1 p.m., heavy lake-effect snow, bolstered by strong southwest winds, is expected to blast the Buffalo metro area and areas of northern Erie County, according to projections by the National Weather Service. (NWS polygon)

There’s a greater than 90 percent chance for significant  snowfall about 1 p.m., the weather service reports.

Thunder and lightning could be mixed in with the snow storm at times, forecasters said.

Southwest winds will keep the snow in the metro Buffalo area and Northtowns for several hours in the afternoon. Sustained winds at or above 30 mph will reduce visibilities to one-quarter mile in some localized spots, forecasters project. Gusts could approach 40 mph.

Metro Buffalo and the Northtowns are in the sights of the lake-effect band at 5 p.m. today. (NWS polygon)

“This will be a relatively short-lived but potentially high-impact event centered around evening commute,” forecasters from the National Weather Service stated in its lake-effect snow warning.

The most hazardous conditions in these areas are expected to continue until about 6 p.m.

In Niagara County, there is a lake-effect snow advisory in place until 7 p.m. Up to five inches of snow is possible in the most persistent squalls.

The snow band is expected to move south during the evening hours with a slight change in the wind direction but not before putting down up to seven inches of snow in these affected areas.

By 8 p.m., the lake-effect snow band makes its way south of the metro area into the Southtowns and western Southern Tier, the weather service reports. (NWS polygon)

The lake-effect snow warning runs in northern Erie County, including Buffalo, and Genesee County until 1 a.m. Thursday.

In southern Erie County, the warning is posted until 7 p.m. Thursday. Storm totals of 7-to-14 inches are possible.

Farther south, in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, the warning for lake-effect snow doesn't expire until Friday morning. Up to 18 inches of new snow is possible in areas that received close to two feet of snow late last week.

All of this is being spurred by an early-season Arctic blast.

The southward trek of the polar vortex into northern Ontario and Quebec is generating a large cyclonic flow of frigid air over the Great Lakes. That is resulting in heavy lake-effect snow region-wide from Wisconsin to the North Country in New York State.

By 7 a.m. Friday, metro Buffalo could see up to a foot of new snow, according to weather service projections.

So far in the 2016-17 winter season, just 6.5 inches has fallen at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

That's nearly a foot below average for this date in the year.

Most of Western New York will be impacted by this lake-effect snowstorm. Snow warnings are in place from 1 p.m. Wednesday until 1 a.m. Thursday. (National Weather Service graphic)

To add insult to injury, a year ago on this date, the temperature at Buffalo reached 71 degrees.

It set the all-time record in Buffalo for the latest day in the calendar year when a 70-degree day was recorded.

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