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Commentary

A winter storm is zeroing in on Western New York

Don Paul

Early this Tuesday afternoon, I began examining new model runs and quietly mouthed the phrase, “Uh oh.” My Monday night concerns about significant snow and blowing snow are now looking likely to be realized by Thursday. At least by this winter’s standards, a vigorous storm system arriving Wednesday night through Thursday will be the most impactful of the cold weather season. It will make for hazardous travel on Thursday, with snow and blowing snow across the region, rather than just in narrow bands of lake-effect, and for both commutes.

Our only large-scale snowfall this season came on Nov. 11, but it was not accompanied by the strong, gusty winds which will take over with this area of low pressure. Blowing snow always complicates matters, even with moderate accumulations that don’t measure up to heavy (7-plus inches in 12 hours). This time around, I’m afraid the amounts will reach heavy criteria even on parts of the Niagara Frontier, and not just on the hilly terrain to the south.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch (not yet a warning) for all of Western New York, except Allegany County where amounts and impacts may be less.

The watch is up for Southern Erie, Wyoming, Chautauqua, and Cattaraugus counties from Wednesday evening into Saturday due to lingering significant bands of lake snow lingering behind the departing storm system. The watch is up for Northern Erie (including metro Buffalo and the nearby suburbs), Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties from Wednesday night through Thursday for more widespread/synoptic snowfall.

Even after the moderate to heavy synoptic snow lessens on the Niagara Frontier later Thursday, it does not end. Some snow of a lesser intensity will continue off and on through Friday evening. Farther south, better organized bands of lake-effect Thursday night will linger into Saturday, and some interior hilly terrain could see 1-2 inches of snow. As of this writing, NWS is projecting amounts of 4-8 inches plus blowing snow on the Niagara Frontier. I have to say my own forecast is for greater amounts from the metro area northward, in the range of 8-10-plus inches with locally higher amounts possible, based on newest model output.

I agree amounts in ski country will exceed a foot at many locations on the hills. Either set of numbers, the wind will make for tough travel.

The transition from rain to snow will begin Wednesday night, occurring first at higher elevations, and reaching lower elevations later at night. The Thursday commute will include west to west-southwest winds increasing to 25-35 mph with gusts to 45. These winds will also produce a sharp rise in lake waters and cause some potentially extensive lakeshore flooding along the Lake Erie shoreline, especially with exceptionally high lake levels already in place.

Driving on Thursday will be difficult and, at times, hazardous due to sharply reduced visibility in snow, blowing and drifting snow. On Friday, wind speeds will not be as strong. There will still be blowing snow on a brisk westerly flow, but not as impactful as on Thursday.

Here is some model output on the transition Wednesday night. After some wet snow Wednesday morning, there will be a period of soaking rain toward early evening.

By around midnight, some pockets of heavy snow (where you see dark blue) are depicted in this high resolution NWS model, but winds will still be light.

Around 7 a.m. Thursday for the commute, the model projects an increasing west wind, with moderate widespread snow complicated by more blowing snow.

This particular model indicates about 6 inches already on the ground across much of the region, but that could be a couple of inches on the high side. Remember, when blowing snow enters the picture, the precise accumulation amounts become much less important for impact.

During the afternoon commute, snow and blowing snow are still a big problem, with winds at their strongest.

As for modeled amounts, this NWS model puts out these totals by late Thursday afternoon.

The main increases in accumulation Thursday night and beyond then shift more to the hilly terrain.

There are slightly worst-case scenarios in a couple of the global models for amounts, but I’m not yet prepared to dive all the way in to those numbers. The newest European snow totals by Saturday dawn look overdone on the Niagara Frontier.

The American GFS looks out of control altogether, in my opinion, but I’m not going to censor its unlikely output.

Just to calm everyone down, here is the Canadian GEM output, with much lower numbers near the metro area. I think they’re a little underdone, but, in my judgment and taking into account my less than scientific instincts about this winter, I think the Canadian has a better chance of verifying than the American:

As always, please, no wagering.

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