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Don Paul: Storm tracks closer, meaning more snow

After sleeping late, I awoke to weather models which are shoving the track of this winter storm closer to us than they were showing yesterday. No, it’s still not going to be a replay of the roaring Blizzard of ’85, but some limited adjustments are in order in snow totals.

This was Friday's high-resolution depiction of the storm at 11 p.m. Saturday. Note the center of low pressure is down on the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

Here is today’s newer run.

Note the storm system for that hour which was far south in yesterday’s run is now closer to Cincinnati-northern Kentucky. As you might guess, that adjusted storm track brings more moisture farther north. And, you still have to add in the enhancement from Lake Ontario north of the metro area on northeast to north winds. Speaking of winds, they will be gustier north of Buffalo and gustiest close to the Lake Ontario shoreline, and fairly gusty on the immediate Lake Erie shore south of the metro area.

Saturday evening’s northeast winds will back to north by morning, at which times blowing snow will begin to impact east-west roads more, like Route 104 and the Thruway toward Rochester. Winds will be more than sufficient with this lower density snow (due to polar air) to produce lots of blowing and drifting as the snow piles up. As I’ve written earlier, they should remain below blizzard criteria (defined by three consecutive hours of sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35+ mph, and frequent visibility of a quarter-mile or less). Still, near the Lake Ontario shore, there could be brief bursts of near-blizzard conditions overnight and Sunday morning.

Peak intensity for the storm could come in Sunday’s predawn hours. Note the swath of darker blue, indicating heavier rates of snowfall, cutting across much of the Niagara Frontier.

Here are snow totals from this model by late Sunday, though widespread snow should diminish during Sunday morning fairly quickly.

But there is a problem with these totals. They are almost certainly too low. If you look at the top of the chart, you’ll see “Assuming 10:1 snow:liquid ratio.” Nuh-uh. We can’t assume that at all. It will be far too cold for that typical ratio with water-laden snow in milder air. The ratio on this storm on the Niagara Frontier will be 20:1, not 10:1. That’s quite a difference.

This was the snow total map put out at 4 a.m. by the National Weather Service Buffalo Forecast Office. It was perfectly reasonable at that time, because the northward shift in the storm track was not nearly so apparent in the wee hours.

Based on what I’m seeing in newer data than what was available at 4 a.m., I would put Buffalo in the 10 to 13 inch range, with more snow still possible if the new higher liquid totals being modeled hold in the next run. I would expect 12 to 18” totals to the north and northeast of the metro area. It should be remembered that Lake Ontario enhancement tends to occur in narrow tendrils at times, so coverage of the higher totals may be uneven. I would also expect 12 to 18” totals across much of the Southern Tier, especially to the southeast, though winds will not be quite as gusty closer to Pennsylvania.

Winds will be from the northeast and then the north overnight at 15 to 30 mph with some stronger gusts on the Niagara Frontier. North of the metro area and closer to Lake Ontario winds will increase to 20-30 mph with gusts of 35-40. Sunday winds will shift from north to northwest at 15-25 with a few stronger gusts. Temperatures will fall into the single digits in the afternoon, and the wind chill will drop to minus 10 and occasionally -15.

If you’re looking for a brief respite, you’ve got it. Here are National Weather Service HQ projected high temps for Wednesday, ahead of a low pressure system.

Notice I said “brief respite.” That long-advertised polar hammer still appears to be coming at the end of the month into at least early February. The look and the very colors of this next upper air graphic tell the story.

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