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Heavy snow, cold winds likely on heels of storm ; Region braces for a one-two punch

A million Western New Yorkers will join tens of millions of people across the Midwest, Northeast and mid-Atlantic as the nation braces for a severe winter storm today and Wednesday.

Heavy snow and bitterly cold winds are predicted across a wide swath from the Rockies across the Great Lakes to New England.

In some areas, it is starting with sleet and freezing rain. A third of the nation is under a winter weather watch, advisory or warning.

Locally, National Weather Service forecasters said the storm will arrive in two phases. The first is a light snowfall of 1 to 2 inches early today, more in the Southern Tier counties, enough to prompt a winter weather advisory until 3 p.m. today.

Then, after a calm period, the big storm will move in. For that one, a winter storm warning has been posted from 10 tonight through 10 p.m. Wednesday.

"It's going to be kind of a one-two punch," meteorologist David Thomas from the National Weather Service office at Buffalo Niagara International Airport said Monday night.

"Wednesday morning around rush hour, that's when we think the greatest intensity will be," he said. "The snow will be falling about 2 inches an hour with a 15- to 25-mph wind.

"It's not going to be a fluffy snow," he added. "It's going to have a lot of water content to it. You won't be able to push it around with a leaf blower. You'll feel it when you're shoveling."

Thomas estimated that the snow should diminish Wednesday afternoon, with a few snow showers later in the day.

He expects a snowfall of 12 to 14 inches before it's over.

"Wednesday's going to be a pretty rough day," he said.

Warmer areas were not safe, either. The system could spawn tornadoes in parts of the South.

Cities including St. Louis, Kansas City and Milwaukee could be hardest hit, with expected midweek snowfalls of up to 2 feet and drifts piled 5 to 10 feet.

Chicago could be in for its third-worst blizzard since record-keeping began.

A blizzard watch was in effect for today and Wednesday for southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois and northwest Indiana. Winds could reach up to 60 mph in open areas and near Lake Michigan.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated 600 members of the National Guard.

Bitterly cold temperatures were forecast in the wake of the storm, with wind chills as cold as 40 degrees below zero possible in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota and other areas.

How far would you have to go to escape it?

"You could go to Caribou, Maine," Thomas said. "They're going to get just a few inches. Or you could drive south to the Carolinas."

Or you might go north of the border. Environment Canada is predicting only about 6 inches of snow for Toronto. In Montreal, there isn't even a weather advisory.

Meanwhile, Wednesday is Groundhog Day, the exact midpoint of the winter, but it's unlikely that the weather-predicting groundhogs will find any sign of an early spring.

In Punxsutawney, Pa., the forecast is for rain and freezing rain for the annual celebration of Punxsutawney Phil.

Closer to home, the snow will not deter Dunkirk Dave from making his appearance at about 7:30 a.m., according to Bob Will, the keeper of Chautauqua County's prognosticating groundhog.

"He'll be out looking around to see if he can see his shadow," Will said Monday night. "We'll get something out of him, no matter how bad it is."

e-mail: danderson@buffnews.com

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