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Western New York faces dangerous wind chills

Think of it this way: it’s darn cold, but it’s not 1977.

Today, 37 years to the day after the infamous “Blizzard of ’77” made Buffalo globally synonymous with cold, snow and wintry weather, area residents will again battle some of the fiercest winter elements of a season that’s been filled with them.

Subzero temperatures. Blowing snow. Extremely frigid wind chills.

It won’t be a reprise of Jan. 28, 1977. But, today’s weather will be plenty dangerous.

A wind chill warning runs through at least 11 a.m. for all of Western New York. Strong winds gusting as high as 36 mph, combined with temperatures in the single digits, will make it feel like minus 25 degrees or colder “for several hours” today, the weather service warned.

“If you’re outside for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, you’d start to run into a problem, probably,” said Bob Hamilton, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “We’re at dangerously low levels.”

The fierce cold comes on a day when many area schools have already spent or exceeded their budgeted “snow days” for 2013-14 and at a time when the state Regents exams are being administered in high schools statewide.

As of late Monday, the Buffalo Public Schools announced it was partially closing schools because of the dangerous cold. All students not taking Regents exams – including all elementary students – did not have to report for class this morning. Exam takers and school staff, however, were required to report today despite the weather.

Some districts – like Eden and Iroquois – canceled all classes and the Regents tests.

This week’s weather will be the fourth major bout of extreme cold weather this month.

Temperatures, today included, will have dropped below the normal range this month for 19 days. Today will likely become the fourth day this month in which the high temperature doesn’t make it out of the single digits – the forecast high is 4 degrees.

Before this month, the last time any single day didn’t make it to at least 10 degrees was in 2009.

When asked whether the “polar vortex” was at work again, Hamilton scoffed.

“The polar vortex is there all the time,” said Hamilton, explaining that the term – which went viral earlier this month in national media reports – is being widely misinterpreted as explaining the colder-than-recent winters.

“It’s kind of like saying that hurricanes are due to the trade winds,” said Hamilton. “The polar vortex is five miles up in the atmosphere. We’re getting a push of air out of the Canadian arctic.”

Today marks the eighth day in a row when the low temperature for the day is a single-digit figure.

As of 4 p.m. Monday, the Buffalo Niagara International Airport recorded 42.3 inches of snowfall in January, pushing the overall season total to nearly 81 inches. That’s almost 20 inches more than normal for the month and 22 inches over the seasonal average for this time of year.

All the statistics support statements that this has been “no ordinary winter” – relatively speaking, in recent history.

“It not that unusual,” said Hamilton. “We just haven’t seen it in a while. But, it’s closer to the normal winters than we’ve had.”

For snowfall, we’ve picked up 55 more inches than at this time last year and are closing in on tripling the 36.7-inch total amount of snow that Buffalo received during the entire winter season two years ago.

You remember how bitterly cold it was during the Blizzard of ’14 three weeks ago? This morning could be almost as frigid. Maybe even colder.

The wind chill warning cautioned of the danger of frostbite and hypothermia for anyone who is outdoors for even a short time without proper clothing.

A “blizzard” is defined as when visibilities drop below one-quarter mile and winds are at least 35 mph.

“We’re not going to have any of that, but it’s going to be very cold,” said Hamilton.

On Jan. 7, temperatures dipped to 5 below zero and winds gusted up to 38 mph. The outlook for this morning calls for lows around zero, perhaps a few degrees colder, with wind gusts up to 36 mph.

Snowfall, however, should be lighter than what fell during the blizzard. Forecasters expect only an inch or so, but say there will be plenty of blowing and drifting snow. Driving is likely to be very tricky before noon today.

Don’t be surprised if another wind chill warning is posted for late tonight and early Wednesday. Meteorologists are predicting overnight lows below zero, along with winds of 20 mph or more, once again producing wind chills of 25 below.

It’s not just Buffalo Niagara that’s feeling the chill this winter.

Areas from Houston to the panhandle of Florida were under winter storm watches today with a wintry mix – and even some snow expected – as far south as the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

News Staff Reporter Dale Anderson contributed to this report. email: