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Flakes expected to usher in 2016

Western New York missed a white Christmas, but there’s a good chance of snow on the ground for the first few days of the new year.

The roller coaster that’s taken us from winter chills to springlike warmth is expected to take another dip during the final hours of 2015 on Thursday.

Temperatures should be just below freezing during the countdown to midnight for the Ball Drop from the Electric Tower in downtown Buffalo, the National Weather Service says, and there’s a 50 percent probability of snow showers. Heavier lake-effect snow is a possibility in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties Thursday night.

“It’s what you’d expect for this time of year,” meteorologist Kirk Apffel of the NWS Buffalo office said Tuesday night. “What’s unusual is that we haven’t had any weather like that so far.”

The first general snowfall to hit the area this season, which brought out plows and salt trucks Monday night, turned into slush and then puddles on Tuesday as temperatures climbed to a high of 43.

With overnight lows remaining above freezing, it should disappear from lawns and sidewalks Wednesday.

Work crews beat the arrival of the snow Monday and finished the installation of the final three floating sections of the 22-span Lake Erie-Niagara River ice boom, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports. The boom reduces the chance of ice damage to properties along the Niagara River and the hydroelectric power facilities near Niagara Falls.

The boom will stay in place until April 1 or until less than 250 square miles of ice remains on Lake Erie. After last winter’s severe cold, work to remove the boom didn’t begin until April 29.

By international agreement, the installation of the 1.7-mile boom is supposed to begin by Dec. 16 or earlier if the water temperature drops to 39 degrees. Currently, the lake is at 43 degrees, the warmest ever recorded for this time of year.

The arrival of the next cold front Wednesday night is expected to be marked by a few rain showers turning into snow showers later in the evening as temperatures drop from the 40s to around freezing. Thursday should be breezy and chilly, with occasional snow showers.

Thanks to an arctic air mass, the next round of cooler weather is expected to stick around long enough to give skiers a full weekend to head out for the slopes.

Daytime highs are forecast just above the freezing mark Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with overnight lows in the mid 20s.

The 50-50 chance of snow showers Friday is expected to taper off to a 30 percent possibility Saturday, although there still will be the potential for moderate lake-effect squalls.

The cooler weather for the next few days is not likely to keep us from setting a new heat record for the month of December, Apffel noted.

“There’s a good chance of breaking it,” he said. “The warmest December was 1923, when the average temperature was 37.6. With three days left, our average is 42.7.”