Longtime Western New York residents and meteorologists agree that the winter of 2019-2020 has been noteworthy for its lack of wintry weather. But February is poised to go out like a lake-effect lion, especially for the Southern Tier.
The National Weather Service has issued a "hazardous weather outlook" for later this week, with lake-effect snow, cold temperatures and gusty winds forecast for Thursday and Friday and as the calendar flips to March for the weekend.
While the hazardous outlook is for all of Western New York, most of the heavier lake-effect accumulations will occur south of the metro area and below the Southtowns, said Jon Hitchcock, a National Weather Service meteorologist working out of their facility at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.
"Cold air will move back into the region starting Thursday, and it will last through Friday and Saturday," Hitchcock said. "As far as the lake-effect snow goes, most of this is going to impact the higher terrain well south of the city. So it should not be too big of a deal for any the metro area."
Hitchcock said minor accumulations of snow are likely in the Buffalo area, "on-and-off light snow that might add up to a couple of inches." Temperatures, in the 40s in the early part of the week, will dip to the 30s starting Thursday, then head into the 20s and below.
The heavier lake-effect snow will set up from Thursday morning through Saturday morning in the higher elevations of southern Erie County and the Southern Tier. "That's going to be a pretty long window of moderate to heavy lake-effect snow," Hitchcock said.
It could prove to be a rare snow event in a rare Western New York winter.
"It's been a pretty easy winter thus far, it's been a pretty warm winter," he said. "We have had some snow but the seems like we're cold for a few days, we get some snow, and then it melts again. And that will be the case this time as well. We're going to be cold for three or four days, and then we warm up again next week, it looks like."
The warmer weather will be a factor this weekend. That's because Lake Erie, which is usually frozen by this point of the winter, is ice free. Lake-effect snow forms when colder air passes over the warmer waters of a lake, causing warm, wet air to rise. The air then cools as it moves away from the lake, resulting in moisture being dumped to the ground.
"If this were a normal winter, Lake Erie would be ice-covered at this point and we'd see a lot less snow off of it," Hitchock said, "but because it is open, that kind of opens the door to this potential significant lake-effect snow event."