Yes, it was a blizzard.
“The wind by itself dictated that. The blowing snow, the drifting snow,” said Aaron Reynolds, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Buffalo Tuesday night.
And yes, it’s over, although it might not seem like much of a difference for the next few hours, mostly because of wind. At 10 p.m., the temperature stood at 14 degrees, with a minus 6 wind chill factor and light snow.
A winter weather advisory remains in effect until 1 a.m. Wednesday for all over Western New York except Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, with winds gusting up to 35 mph, causing whiteouts and drifting and wickedly cold wind chills.
For good measure, the National Weather Service threw in a wind chill advisory for the Southern Tier counties until 10 a.m. Wednesday.
As Buffalo blizzards go, however, the one Tuesday was just a polar bear cub.
Meteorologist Reynolds pinpointed its start at 12:24 p.m. Tuesday, when visibility at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport dropped to an eighth of a mile.
“That was less than the quarter mile visibility required for a blizzard,” he said. “And there was heavy snow and blowing snow. That visibility did not rise above a quarter mile until 4:23 p.m. That meets the definition of a blizzard.”
The whiteout conditions slowed afternoon commuter traffic to a crawl in and around Buffalo. One of the main outbound routes from downtown, Route 5, was closed from the base of the Skyway to Route 179 in Woodlawn during the height of the rush hour.
A crash involving between 15 and 25 vehicles closed all lanes of the eastbound mainline Thruway near Depew between exits 48A (Route 77) and 49 (Transit Road). According to the New York State Police: "All lanes are currently blocked on I-90 eastbound at exit 50 (Niagara Falls - I-290). All eastbound traffic must get off at exit 50." NITTEC reported that the eastbound lanes reopened at 10:30 p.m.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz issued a travel advisory for the northern half of the county and said there should be no unnecessary travel. Poloncarz also tweeted that a county emergency services unit mobile command center was being dispatched to the crash on the Thruway. He said 22 vehicles were "directly involved."
In Buffalo, officials closed City Hall early — at 3:30 p.m. — because of the poor weather.
The state Unified Courts System reported that all state, county and city courts in downtown Buffalo closed early, at 4 p.m., because of inclement weather.
Many after-school and evening activities were canceled throughout northern Erie County.
The National Weather Service canceled the blizzard warning for northern Erie County at 6:36 p.m. Tuesday after visibility improved, winds diminished and lake-effect snow died down. Places affected by the blizzard warning included Buffalo, Williamsville, Cheektowaga, West Seneca, Clarence, Lancaster, Lackawanna, Depew, Hamburg and others. A winter weather advisory continues for all of Western New York, except Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, until 1 a.m.
The blizzard conditions were being fed by the funneling of strong southwest winds over Lake Erie, which intensified the winds and fed a band of lake-effect snow.
The weather service defines a blizzard as a storm where the winds are greater than 35 mph with visibility under one-quarter mile for at least three hours.
"You don't go by the snowfall in itself," meteorologist Reynolds said.
Snow totals were relatively light. Officially, 3.2 inches were measured at the National Weather Service office at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga.
Trained NWS snow spotters Tuesday evening reported 4.5 inches in Depew and West Seneca, 3.5 inches in Clarence and 3 inches in Sloan and Tonawanda.