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Hold on tight – lake-effect roller coaster ride isn’t over yet

If this week’s historic wintry blast could be described in terms of a roller coaster, we would be cresting the top of the second large drop and racing downward again into another all-day, white-knuckled strike.

Once that’s weathered sometime early Friday, it will be time to be whipped through an upside-down loop for the weekend when temperatures soar above freezing and remain there for 72 hours or more.

That has the potential to result in widespread snowmelt and flooding, but forecasters aren’t going there just yet.

“They’re still trying to determine if there will be flooding,” said Steven Welch, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

After a day’s reprieve Wednesday from heavy lake-effect snow that relentlessly pelted areas of South Buffalo, the eastern suburbs and the Southtowns – dropping up to 65 inches of snow from thick, moisture-laden clouds – an additional 30 or more inches are forecast for many of those same areas today.

Weather Service officials are worried that this lake-effect monster may be bad enough to compromise the structural integrity of some buildings.

The weather service’s map of forecast storm totals today puts places such as Dunkirk, Hamburg, Eden and Orchard Park within a whitish band that could expect “more than 30 inches.” Places such as Lancaster and South Cheektowaga, which each recorded 65 inches in the first storm Tuesday, are on the fringe of the same forecast total.

Other areas, including Buffalo and Batavia, should measure 10 to 14 inches of snow before all is said and done. In Warsaw and Arcade of Wyoming County? About 18 to 24 inches.

The band started showing up on local radar shortly before 8 p.m. over the Golden Horseshoe of Southern Ontario.

“Here it comes!” the weather service tweeted.

The snow started hitting Niagara County by about 9 p.m. Wednesday, and the Northtowns and Buffalo by midnight, before shifting wind settled the band back into the Southtowns and throughout the gut of Erie County about by about 3 to 4 a.m.

“It’s going to be in the Southtowns – areas that were heavily hit,” Welch said, for what “looks like … the majority of the day.”

Areas under the most persistent bands – which, like Tuesday, are expected to put down snow at historic rates of 2 to 4 inches per hour – will likely receive 2 to 3 feet of snow. Mixing in a west wind gusting at up to 35 mph will again render visibility “near zero at times,” the weather service said.

“Heavy lake-effect snow will result in very difficult or nearly impossible travel at times in the heaviest portion of the band,” the weather service statement said. “Some roads that have been cleared may become impassable again.”

“Snow loads on buildings may reach critical levels and result in structural failure.”

Areas of Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties will also take a big hit today through about noon Friday with similar snowfall rates and wind gusts, forecasters said.

Once this latest lake-effect strike passes away via the Southern Tier by about midday Friday, there will be a change in the weather pattern for the weekend, and despite warmer temperatures, it may bring a whole new host of problems.

Here’s a look at what’s expected for the next several days:

Friday

A 40 percent chance of snow showers is forecast for Buffalo, with temperatures remaining in the 20s. Accumulations aren’t expected to be significant in the metro Buffalo area. Temperatures will drop into the upper teens overnight, with southwest winds of 10 to 13 mph.

The weekend

On Saturday, temperatures will rebound closer to normal – the low to mid-40s – under mostly cloudy conditions. The mercury will remain in the 40s overnight, with a 40 percent chance of rain showers. The thaw will pick up speed Sunday, with showers forecast and a high temperature of about 50 degrees during the day. It will drop into the upper 40s overnight, with breezy conditions.

Forecasters haven’t issued any watches or warnings for flooding yet from melting snow, and are keeping their fingers crossed that it might not be as bad as originally feared because recent models don’t seem to suggest as much rainfall, Welch said.

“The less, the better because that will prevent some of the melting,” Welch said.

Monday

Breezy conditions prevail with daytime temperatures continuing their rise to a well-above-normal 57 degrees before dropping back into the low 40s by evening.

Those are pretty warm temperatures.

“A lot of the snow is compacting now, making it more dense, so it won’t melt as quickly,” Welch said. “It’s more like putting an ice cube outside than a layer of ice.”

Tuesday and beyond

Another approaching cold front looks to bring another round of snow showers back to the region. The extent of the accumulation – or whether yet another round of lake-effect snow could be in the picture – is still sketchy at this point, forecasters said.

“It’s a week away, pretty much,” Welch said. “It’s too early to say how much and who’s going to get it.”

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com