An early winter “lake effect” storm dumped 2 feet or more of snow on parts of western New York state on Friday, disrupting travel with bursts of icy powder blowing in from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario expected to pile up through the weekend.
The squalls could persist through Sunday, creating sporadic blasts of intense snowfall along narrow bands that could amount to 4-1/2 feet (1.4 meters) of snow in some locations, according to National Weather Service forecasts.
Accompanied by plunging temperatures, the region’s first major snowstorm of the season materialized on Thursday and gained momentum overnight into Friday, even though winter officially begins on Dec. 21.
High winds and snow-draped tree limbs and power lines knocked out electricity to thousands of utility customers, while the storm also forced closures along the New York Thruway and flight cancellations at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Even so, many western New Yorkers, accustomed to bouts of winter weather even more severe, seemed unfazed.
A Twitter user going by the name of @BuffaloSnowKing posted a video of himself standing outside late on Thursday evening as snow blanketed his yard. “How can you not enjoy this weather?!” he tweeted.
As of early Friday, road travel bans that had kept motorists off the streets overnight remained in effect for much of the central part of Erie County. But officials lifted road restrictions, at least temporarily, and instead issued travel advisories in the northern and southern parts of the county, including Buffalo, the state’s second-most populous city with some 278,000 residents.
“It was a relatively quiet night for everybody,” including emergency response, Daniel Neaverth, commissioner of Erie County Department of Emergency Services, told reporters early on Friday morning as the snowfall eased.
The lull may prove short-lived, forecasters said. At the rate of 1 to 3 inches per hour, another 2 feet of snow could fall on the area by Saturday, said Liz Jurkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Buffalo.
Snowfalls of such proportions are not uncommon for western New York in November, when the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes can mix with frigid air in the upper atmosphere dropping down from the Arctic, according to the weather service.
Illustrating the highly localized nature of the lake-effect phenomenon, Orchard Park’s 36-inch accumulation as of 9 a.m. contrasted with the 1.6 inches that fell in Tonawanda, just 23 miles to the north, according to the weather service. Two other Erie County towns, Hamburg and Wales, measured nearly 34 inches and 26 inches, respectively, while Buffalo reported almost 14 inches Friday morning.
The weather service cited one report of 4 feet measured by a “trained spotter” near the lakeshore village of Bladsell, south of Buffalo.
Nearly 4,000 customers were without power in the Buffalo area as of Friday afternoon, according to Poweroutage.us. Neaverth said he expected service in Erie County to be restored quickly.
Neaverth noted “a few minor accidents” and some vehicles stuck on roads overnight.
Erie County closed its offices on Friday, though essential staffers were to report to work. The Buffalo Public Schools district, the state’s second-largest serving 32,000 students, canceled all classes and closed offices on Friday.
Jurkowski of the NWS cited multiple reports of “thunder snow” as the sky rumbled and flashed with lightning.
All but five of almost 80 flights scheduled to depart from Buffalo on Friday were canceled, the airport’s aviation director Lee Weitz said.
The prospect of up to 4-1/2 feet of powder on the ground by the close of the weekend prompted the National Football League to move the Buffalo Bills’ Sunday home game against the Cleveland Browns to Detroit.
The storm developed as temperatures for the region, and much of the northern United States, plunged 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit below average for this time of year, said Rich Otto, a Storm Prediction Center meteorologist in College Park, Maryland.