Prepare for rapidly changing weather conditions over the next 24 hours as arctic air plunges into the Finger Lakes.
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Lake Effect Blizzard Develops This Afternoon
For the majority of the Finger Lakes region, the weather will remain tranquil through the evening hours with a mix of sun and clouds. It will be chilly and a bit breezy, with high temperatures generally in the mid and upper 20s.
However, a band of very intense lake effect snow is expected to develop northeast of Lake Erie by the early afternoon hours. This band will likely set up between Buffalo and Rochester, in the area shaded pink above. The band will likely be a bit thinner than the outlined area, but may wobble back and forth a bit within the area. Therefore, it may not be snowing the entire afternoon and early evening in any given location, but very intense, near blizzard conditions are possible with little to no warning.
This is a particularly dangerous set up for a number of reasons. First, the lake effect snow will be extreme, with snowfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour. Combined with the very heavy snow will be wind gusts as high as 40 mph. Lastly, the snow band will impact a high traffic area and possibly two metro areas during the evening commute. Winds further south and east across the Finger Lakes will not be as strong.
If you have travel plans between Rochester and Buffalo this afternoon and evening, I urge you to reconsider. If you must travel, give yourself significant extra time and prepare a winter emergency kit. With temperatures in the teens and 20s, the strong winds will make it feel below zero. Prepare for those temperatures in case your car becomes stuck.
While not shown on the map, a similar situation will unfold on I-81 from northern Oswego County towards Watertown.
Squalls Head South Tonight, Redevelop Early Thursday
Winds will turn from the southwest to the west tonight, causing the lake effect band to dive south.
As the band travel south, a quick burst of snow will put down a couple of inches in a short time. Travelers tonight should be prepared for rapidly changing road conditions and the sudden onset of poor visibility.
Winds will calm down some tonight over western New York, while the Finger Lakes remains a bit breezy, but not terribly windy. Still, some blowing and drifting of the snow is possible.
By the predawn hours, the lake effect band will be pushing through the Southern Tier and into northern Pennsylvania as it continues to weaken.
However, an arctic cold front will combine with the lake effect snow off of Lake Ontario to bring a second burst of snow to the northern Finger Lakes, just in time for the Thursday morning commute.
This band has the potential to be intense, with accumulations of an inch or two in about 30 minutes. The band will be most intense as it comes off Lake Ontario and will gradually weaken as it heads towards the central and southern Finger Lakes.
As with the lake effect tonight, this squall will bring rapidly changing conditions, from clear roads to snow covered roads in a matter of minutes. I definitely suggest checking the radar before departing tomorrow morning to be aware of the band location.
Frigid Thursday with More Lake Effect
Arctic air will plunge into the Finger Lakes during the day Thursday behind the cold front.
Morning temperatures should start out primarily in the low teens with some single digits in the Southern Tier. From there, the temperature will only rise a few degrees Thursday afternoon with highs remaining in the teens.
Strong winds will develop behind the cold front, with wind gusts building to 40 to 50 mph during the afternoon. Not only will this cause more blowing and drifting of snow, but the wind chill will be below zero.
Additional lake effect snow is also likely to develop due to the extreme difference in temperature between the air and lake waters.
At this time, locally intense lake effect is expected to develop southeast of Lake Ontario before traveling south for a third and final burst of snow. Since the band will again be transient, accumulations will be low, but the impact may remain high.
The lake effect will significantly weaken Thursday night into Friday as dry air settles in. Temperatures Friday morning will be in single digits and below zero.
A new storm system will approach later Friday into Saturday. Widespread snow will be possible