The weather models agree: A major winter storm is likely to affect Western New York this weekend.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service are also fine-tuning some details as to how much it will affect the region as the weekend draws closer.
"While the models are still in fairly strong agreement, they have both shifted their track for the cyclone farther south by some 50 to 75 miles," the weather service said. "This may not sound like much, but it would place the area of heaviest synoptic snow south of our region."
It cautioned, however: "That being said, there are still several days before the system will impact the region and the forecast track could shift back to the north, so we need to be very vigilant as we progress through the end of the work week. It would be foolish to let your guard down at this point."
The weather service issued a winter storm watch for all of Western New York from Saturday afternoon to Monday afternoon.
A winter storm watch is in effect for all of western and north central NYS. At this time it appears that 7 inches or more of snow is possible area-wide. Please monitor future forecasts as the event is still several days away. For more details visit https://t.co/0XbKOx8V5X pic.twitter.com/I4r6mMDV6l
— NWS Buffalo (@NWSBUFFALO) January 16, 2019
"Light snow will begin as early as Saturday morning. Snow will become heavy Saturday night and continue into Sunday," the weather service said. "Snow will then transition to lake-effect Sunday night and continue through Monday."
It added: "At this time, greater than 7 inches of snow is possible."
The storm will be generated by a system tracking northeast from the southern Plains states to start the weekend. It will come bearing plenty of moisture and a sharp temperature gradient that is expected to drench the Mid-Atlantic states with rain and spots on the cold side of the storm — like Western New York — with "a risk for heavy accumulating snow," the weather service said.
Because of the relative uncertainty in the exact track of the storm, it remained a little early to forecast exact snowfall totals through the weekend.
The first part of the snows will be synoptic, but as the system tracks farther into New England on Sunday, "the coldest air of this winter season will be drawn down into the region and likely bring lake-enhanced or lake-effect snows to the region," the weather service said.
It added: "This could bring significant additional snowfall totals, especially to areas south and southeast of the lakes."
Highs on Sunday aren't expected to escape the lower teens. Overnight lows Sunday are forecast near zero, the weather service said.
What's more? Forecasters were eyeing the potential for the lake-effect snow to persist into next week.
Watches or warnings could be posted in coming days. No official snowfall total forecasts had been released by the weather service as of early today, but forecasters urged the public to stay alert for upcoming forecasts for the Buffalo Niagara region that will likely include "heavy snowfall, bitter wind chills and strong gusty winds creating blowing and drifting snow."
Between now and then, the weather service said to expect some snow showers this morning with gusty west winds.
Cold air behind a passing cold front will result in a sharp decline in temperatures from the mid-30s during the mid-morning hours down into the 20s and then into the lower teens overnight. Winds should subside later today and become light overnight, forecasters said.
Chances for snow increase again later Thursday afternoon, especially in southern Erie County and the western Southern Tier. Highs are forecast in the upper 20s. Snow becomes likely Thursday evening thanks to a passing storm system, the weather service said.
"As we progress through (Thursday) night, light to occasionally moderate snow will spread across the entire region," the weather service said.
Accumulations are likely to be in the 2- to 4-inch range.
"This snowfall will be far from crippling, but it will likely be enough to have an impact throughout the region," the weather service said.
Chances for snow showers remain in the forecast Friday and Friday night as well. Highs on Friday should reach the low 30s. Overnight lows are forecast in the high teens.