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Lake-effect snow warning issued for New Year’s Eve in Buffalo

Longjohns, a heavy parka, wool scarf, boots and an extra pair of mittens will be essential apparel for Wednesday night’s ball drop in downtown Buffalo.

While you’re at it, toss in an extra package or two of hand-warmers. You’re going to need them.

When the brightly lit ball with the numerals of New Year 2015 descends from the Electric Tower, it will do so amidst lake-effect snow, bone-chilling temperatures and gusty winds.

It’s just the kind of forecast that area ski resorts have been praying for after an unusually warm December. Now, Mother Nature will join them in firing up the snow guns.

“The cold is still a bigger story,” said Jon Hitchcock, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Buffalo. “Even if we only get a small amount of snow, there’s going to be considerable blowing and drifting snow with wind chills down near zero.”

Winds gusting up to 40 mph are forecast with temperatures hovering in the low 20s. And there’s a pretty good chance the snow accumulations won’t be so small.

A lake-effect snow watch issued Tuesday for Erie, Genesee and Wyoming counties was upgraded to a lake-effect snow warning Wednesday, calling for up to 18 inches of snow between Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning.

“The heaviest snows are expected across the Buffalo metro area Wednesday night,” the forecast stated.

“Narrow bands of heavy lake-effect snow” are expected to “result in hazardous travel at times with severely reduced visibilities and snow-covered roads,” according to the forecast, which suggests that the rates of snowfall could approach “1 to 2 inches per hour in the heaviest bands.”

“There’s still some uncertainty with a couple of things,” Hitchcock said late Tuesday. “We’re definitely going to get something.”

That will be welcome news for many ski slopes like Kissing Bridge.

The Glenwood-based operator is opening its slopes for the season at 9 a.m. Wednesday. A pair of slopes, including the Beginner Hill, will be opened and New Year’s celebrations will be held as scheduled.

Meanwhile, forecasters were still trying to pin down the exact location and expected strength of the lake-effect snowfall.

With an expected southwest wind, that puts the target squarely around metro Buffalo.

“It really depends on where the heaviest band sets up,” explained Steve Welch, a meteorologist technician with the weather service’s office in Buffalo. Welch said heavier snow totals would come if the snow band stays stationary.