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Thruway closed to tractor-trailers as lake-effect storm hits Western New York

The lake-effect snow is back in force.

Areas of downtown Buffalo were overtaken by the curtain of white shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday in a lake-effect snowstorm that’s expected to dump 18 or more inches of snow over some parts of the region by Friday morning.

Tractor-trailers were banned on the Thruway from the Pennsylvania State Line to the exit to Niagara Falls and as far east as Rochester because of the wintry conditions, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced late Wednesday.

The lake-effect snow started flying early Wednesday afternoon along the Lake Erie shoreline before migrating northward, as National Weather Service forecasters projected.

Though the storm isn’t expected to approach the historic intensity of the double lake-effect snowstorms that pounded the region in November, it was extreme enough to ban tractor-trailers on the Thruway in Western New York beginning at 9 p.m. and continuing through 6 a.m. Thursday.

The weather service said the snow band “capable of producing snowfall rates of 1-2 inches per hour” would reduce visibility on area roadways to “a quarter-mile or less.” On top of that, wind gusts up to 30 mph were expected to “create areas of blowing and drifting snow,” the weather service said.

By rush hour Wednesday, the heaviest of the lake-effect snow was centered over the Southtowns and stretched into portions of Orleans and Genesee counties. Downtown Buffalo and some suburbs, such as Alden, Elma, Lancaster and West Seneca, were also being affected.

Buffalo crews spent the early part of Wednesday preparing for the storm by pre-salting roads. Extra crews will be on the city roads in an effort to keep streets clean and motorists safe, Streets Commissioner Steve Stepniak said Wednesday.

“We have 35 crews. We are all set. We are just going to monitor things going forward,” Stepniak said.

The governor issued a statement saying state resources are ready to clear roads as quickly as possible, but he urged motorists to avoid unnecessary travel in areas “that are going to be hit hardest by snow, wind and extreme cold.”

The State Department of Transportation said it has 189 snowplows and 409 operators in the Buffalo area ready to clear snow with another 109 crews ready to redeploy from the Rochester area if needed.

The Thruway Authority said it has 101 large and medium-sized snow plows, 175 snowplow operators and 35,000 tons of salt ready in the Buffalo area for storm response and recovery operations over the next few days.

The snow, wind and bone-chilling cold will hang around for New Year’s Day.

The National Weather Service’s lake-effect snow warning continues through 10 a.m. Friday for Erie, Genesee and Wyoming counties.

Accumulations are expected to total 10 to 18 inches.

For anyone unlucky enough to have to work New Year’s Day, getting downtown might prove a challenge, as the snow and wind continue.

Check out the weather service’s animated lake-effect storm forecast here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9b9O6D-ZVOc.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com and mgryta@buffnews.com