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For crews waiting to plow, storm's weekend timing is 'perfect'

There might not be a more perfect time for the season's first big snowstorm.

It’s a long weekend. Schools are closed. The holiday rush is over. The Buffalo Bills season is through, and the Sabres are on winter break.

“It is absolutely perfect,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz of the storm’s timing. “We’re very glad that it appears that it’s falling in the overnight hours.”

Typically, Poloncarz said, one of the county’s biggest worries is a winter storm or a lake-effect storm’s arrival that coincides with schools or work letting out.

“We’ve seen in the past where school buses are stuck in the road because they went out at the wrong time. That’s an issue we deal with,” Poloncarz said. “We feel confident we’ll be business as usual throughout the whole storm, and it does help that it’s falling on a holiday weekend.”

What to expect the next 36 hours: Winter storm's arrival in WNY

The snow is expected to start flying Saturday morning across Western New York and continue through dusk Sunday.

The National Weather Service said it’ll start on the lighter side, but start picking up by late afternoon. The storm’s greatest intensity — as much as 1 to 2 inches per hour in some spots where lake-enhanced snowfall is possible — is expected to occur late Saturday and overnight into early Sunday.

“(Saturday) isn’t going to be too bad,” said Dave Zaff, weather service meteorologist. “It’s going to be snowy. There’s going to be some accumulation, but the main impacts will be Saturday night.”

A winter storm warning is posted for most of upstate New York — including all of Western New York. The warning starts at 10 a.m. and runs through 6 p.m. Sunday for every county of the region except Orleans and Genesee, where the warning starts at 1 p.m.

The snow isn’t the full story either. As the storm system tracks farther eastward into New England, frigid Arctic air will rush in behind it.

That will drop overnight temperatures below zero on Sunday, forecasters said. Monday’s high isn’t forecast to make it out of the single digits and temperatures are expected to drop below zero again Monday night, the weather service said.

And, with brisk northerly winds, wind chills are forecast in the range of minus 10 to minus 20 degrees.

County officials emphasized at a Friday afternoon meeting with reporters in Cheektowaga that frigid temperatures were coming.

Poloncarz explained that Code Blue alerts would be in place. He said authorities will make sure any homeless are brought to the safety of shelters.

And, he had a message for parents of stir-crazy children itching to get out Sunday and play in the newly fallen snow: “Please don’t send them outside. It’s going to be bitter wind chills — minus 15 to minus 20. Frostbite can occur in a very short period of time."

Buffalo’s last sub-zero temperature came Jan. 7, 2018. It was minus 5. That was part of a streak that included four sub-zero readings to start 2018.

The storm is expected to result in travel cancellations and delays, including flights and train travel.

Amtrak announced its Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York, which stops in Buffalo, is cancelled Saturday.

Emergency services personnel and local law enforcement urged motorists to just stay home if they can.

“There are a couple of good football games on TV this weekend,” said Daniel J. Neaverth Jr., Erie County’s emergency services commissioner. “If you don’t have to go anywhere, don’t go anywhere.”

Compared to many other spots in upstate New York, Western New York can count its blessings.

“The Buffalo metro area will probably fare the best of the whole state,” Zaff said. “That’s the good news.”

Don Paul: This weekend's snowstorm is no 'six-pack' blizzard

Blowing snow this weekend likely will keep Buffalo's snow-fighting crews busy.

"This is going to be a very light snow, low moisture snow, which is going to blow around a lot in these heavy winds,” said Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak Friday. “So there’s going to have to be repeat applications on the roadway. As that plow goes down, the winds can push that snow back on” the roadway.

The city has 7,000 tons of salt and 70 pieces of equipment ready for the storm. The mild winter so far has helped.

“Crews are well-rested. Salt supplies are good,” Stepniak said. “We’ve actually had a $10 million investment since 2006 in our equipment which allows us for situations like this to be prepared and ready to activate immediately.”

Statewide, the storm presents a challenge, said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a telephone conference with reporters Friday.

The governor announced late Friday that he will issue a ban on tractor-trailer and bus travel on the Thruway and most interstate highways. The ban will take effect at 3 p.m. Saturday.

"Safety is our number one priority and with the anticipated storm impacting most of New York State, we are implementing this ban on tractor-trailers and buses so our plow operators, fire, law enforcement and emergency personnel can keep roads clean and respond to emergencies as quickly as possible," Cuomo said in a statement released late Friday.

"I am also urging drivers to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary," Cuomo added.

Although storm totals are expected to generally fall from 8 to 12 inches throughout most of the Buffalo Niagara region, forecast models show they’ll be much higher elsewhere, including as much as 14 to 20 inches in Central New York and parts of the Southern Tier and as much as 2 feet in the Capital Region.

“It is problematic and dangerous for us because it is a high level of snow over a large geographical area,” Cuomo said of this storm. “When they are regionally isolated, they tend to be more manageable.”

Four hundred fifty National Guard soldiers will be available, along with 105 military vehicles to assist and clear debris, state officials said. The state transportation department is expected to deploy some 1,502 large plow trucks, more than 3,900 personnel and spread up to 450,000 tons of salt. The Thruway will deploy more than 400 pieces of equipment and over 660 personnel.

In a season where Buffalo’s highest snowfall to date has been just 6.2 inches — and its last full foot of snow in a single storm came last March 1-2 — Erie County officials said their plow drivers are chomping at the bit to get out on the roads.

“They’re itching to get out there,” Poloncarz said. “These guys want to make money.”

The county executive said because of the relative dearth of snow this season, the county headed into the weekend well under-budget for overtime.

And, they’ve got some 30 brand-new snow plows to try out, including five specialty plows which cost the county $250,000 each.

“This is not a major event for us,” said Charles Sickler, Erie County’s deputy commissioner for public works for highways. “It’s been 40 days since we’ve had what I would call a significant snow storm for our guys. It’s almost like skiers waiting for the snow. We have some drivers that can’t wait to get out there.”

Sickler added: “We’re ready, willing and able. And, the guys are anxious to get in.”

News staff reporters Deidre Williams and Harold McNeil contributed to this report.

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