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Lake snow puzzles forecasters

The conditions were ripe Friday for a major lake-effect snowstorm for the Buffalo metro area and most of Western New York.

Then, Mother Nature eased up on her gas pedal.

Many area school districts, including the Buffalo Public Schools, canceled classes and other activities Friday in advance of the forecasted snowstorm, following a wintry mix Thursday that froze the region under an ice-coated shell.

Snowflakes did fly furiously for a few intermittent periods Friday, scattering up to six inches east of Buffalo, but as of late Friday, a well-defined lake-effect snow band never really did get itself fully organized.

That left National Weather Service meteorologists puzzling out possible explanations.

"We have the perfect wind direction and [atmospheric] instability," said meteorologist Dave Sage at about 8 p.m. "It's not a good situation out there, but it's not as exciting as we thought it would be. We'd expected to see something well-formed by right now."

One hypothesis posited by meteorologists was that the wind speeds aloft were shearing off the cloud tops, which make and dump the heavy snow squalls.

For much of Friday, snow was concentrated in lake-effect snow pockets across the region. But that's not to say some areas didn't accumulate significant snows.

One spotter in the Alden-Millgrove area reported about six inches by dinnertime Friday, including about three inches that fell in a span of three hours. A total of 5.2 inches was reported at Buffalo Niagara International Airport as of late Friday night.

Area police agencies reported the usual cadre of vehicles sliding off roadways, including on Routes 219 and 400 as well as near the Lackawanna and Grand Island toll barriers. No serious injuries were reported.

A few afternoon rush hour fender-benders were also reported on Bailey Avenue near Main Street Friday as well as at Bailey and Scajaquada Street. An accident at Kenmore Avenue and Vulcan Street involving two cars shortly before 5 p.m. resulted in minor injuries to three people.

Despite Friday's unexpectedly moderate winter weather, meteorologists said the conditions remained ripe for heavy lake-effect snows and therefore they wouldn't roll back the lake-effect snow warning posted to run through 1 a.m. Sunday.

Friday evening's short-term forecast called for the largely unorganized band of lake-effect snow over central Erie County to remain stationary or drift slightly southward for a few hours before migrating through the Southtowns into this morning and settling in ski country tonight.

Although it's unlikely there will be significant measurable snowfall during tonight's Bills game against the Denver Broncos at Ralph Wilson Stadium, some additional snow is not out of the question, meteorologists said.

The forecast prompted Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard to remind Bills fans to leave for the game early, and if possible, car pool.

"Dangerous, inclement weather could occur before, during and after Saturday evening's game," Howard said. "When you couple that bad weather with the last home game of the season, and a sell out crowd, then you have potential for some real problems."

The sheriff cautioned fans against darting onto the street from behind high snow banks and warned that anyone caught throwing snowballs inside the stadium will be ejected.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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