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One-two punch of lake-effect snow heading for Western New York

Think you’re ready to take an early punch from “young man winter”? How about two?

Portions of the region – save for some areas in Niagara and Orleans counties – will wake up to everything from a thick blanket of white to heavy lake-effect snowfall, which the National Weather Service said early this morning was capable of “producing snowfall rates of 4 inches per hour or more.”

In a special weather statement, the weather service warned that visibility in some places was “a quarter of a mile or less,” and that the “10 to 15-mile-wide lake effect snow band” was drifting northward, “with the northern edge extending from downtown Buffalo” and just south of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport “to Leroy and the southern edge extending from Orchard Park to Warsaw.”

This wallop laid down a couple of inches of snow per hour in some areas Monday and early today. When all’s said and done, the snow is forecast to be measured in feet rather than inches over many areas from the northern Southern Tier through the Southtowns and points east by early Wednesday afternoon.

Then, after a brief intermission, forecasters are calling for the hammer to drop on a second round of significant lake-effect snow for all of Erie County as well as Genesee and Wyoming counties overnight Wednesday.

“We’re going to have a little bit of a break Wednesday, but it’s going to get going again,” said Jeff Wood, meteorologist from the National Weather Service.

If all of that isn’t enough, there’s a chance that a quick late weekend warm-up might allow you – or rising waters – to rake away any remaining fall leaves you didn’t get to before today before yet another cold front arrives in advance of Thanksgiving, Wood said.

The wintry blast – unlike some past autumn snowstorms – was unlikely to catch many people off-guard.

The weather service started issuing watches for the heavy snow Saturday.

Area politicians were out in force Monday afternoon cautioning the public to stay alert.

School superintendents readied, if necessary, to call the first school closings of the season.

And storekeepers girded for a rush on everything from snowblowers to milk.

The threat was even significant enough that the Weather Channel dispatched an on-camera crew to the Buffalo Niagara region. Meteorologist Mike Bettes spent Monday in Hamburg broadcasting the arrival of the storm to viewers nationwide.

“The next few days bring epic totals,” Bettes wrote on his Facebook page early Monday from Erie, Pa.

By evening rush hour Monday, the light snow and drizzle that fell most of the day started to give way to lake-effect snow. Winds shifted direction and picked up in speed.

The heaviest lake-effect snow was falling in the eastern suburbs from about West Seneca all the way across a line separating Genesee and Wyoming counties at about 7:30 p.m. About an hour later, accounts of “thundersnow” started pouring in along with reports about the storm.

By 10:05 p.m., the weather service said the band of heavy lake-effect snow was “well-established.” It dipped into Buffalo’s Southtowns over a line stretching from roughly Irving through central Erie County near Alden and impacting nearly all of Genesee County.

Observers also reported “messy road conditions” along the Aurora Expressway, the Thruway and other roadways. A motorist reported near “whiteout” conditions throughout Orchard Park about 10 p.m.

By 11:00, the band was dropping snow at a rate of 1 to 2 inches an hour in a line that ran from Silver Creek in Chautauqua County to Leroy in Genesee County. The National Weather Service reported the most heavily affected areas to include Hamburg, East Aurora, Bennington, Alexander and Batavia.

Observers noted whiteout conditions in Hamburg and Orchard Park.

Several accidents were reported on the Thruway from West Seneca to Westfield, and an injury-accident was reported on southbound side of the Niagara Thruway at Smith Street, shutting down some lanes, but all were cleared as of 10:40 p.m.

Also, Amherst police temporarily closed Maple Road where it goes over the Youngmann Expressway after four or five cars were involved in a minor accident. Police blamed icy conditions and expected to reopen the road after salt trucks arrived.

Around 1 a.m., snowy conditions forced the closure of Route 400 between Union Road (Route 277) and Olean Road, and of Route 219 northbound between Route 39 and Ridge Road. Shortly thereafter, the Interstate 90

Thruway was shut down between exits 55 and 59.

Shortly before 2 a.m., the Town of Hamburg Office of Emergency Services banned unnecessary travel for the town, as well as the villages of Hamburg and Blasdell.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo activated the state’s emergency operations center late Monday night to deal with the storm. The Thruway Authority banned tandem vehicles between Ripley and Interstate 390 in the Rochester area at 6 a.m. today.

Meanwhile, authorities on the westbound Thruway already had responded to multiple mishaps early Monday evening between West Seneca and Westfield and an injury-accident on I-190 at the Smith Street exit.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Undersheriff Mark Wipperman told reporters during an afternoon news briefing in West Seneca that additional sheriff’s manpower was being deployed “to handle any storm-related calls or incidents.” Two dozen plows were already working county roads with up to 40 ready to roll in all, officials said.

“We’re prepared to handle whatever Mother Nature throws at us,” Poloncarz said.

So too were the forecasters.

The weather service issued a pair of special weather statements during the evening after a slight shift in winds generating “multiple lake-effect snow bands” were shifting a little more northerly than earlier expected and then as they had shifted south again.

The coldest air, which early Monday evening was still situated over Cleveland, continued to pour into the region as the night wore on. Aligning winds would deepen the organization and intensity of the snowfall, generating highly fueled squalls over the Buffalo Southtowns overnight.

“Roughly, the line will be from West Seneca to Alden to southern Genesee County and south across Hamburg, Blasdell into Eden … and Angola too,” Wood said.

Colden was another spot forecast to absorb a strong charge from the lake-effect machine.

It’s why Gary Maybach worked hard in his small-engine repair shop there late Monday assembling seven or eight snowblowers delivered to him earlier in the afternoon. Maybach expects some business today.

“Right now, we’re staying open a little bit later to put them all together,” Maybach said. “We put gas in them, oil in them.”

Customers who leave with a machine today, said Maybach, will be all “ready to rock ’n’ roll.”

News Staff Reporters Maki Becker, Janice L. Habuda, Karen Robinson, Aaron Besecker and Phil Fairbanks contributed to this report. email: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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