Ice jam flooding, severe winter storm threaten Finger Lakes

finger lakes weather forecast thursday january 11 2018 winter storm saturday january 13 2018 snow map ice jam flooding
Active weather over the next 72 hours will bring first a threat for flooding, then a severe winter storm to the Finger Lakes. [Photo by Mike Competillo]

Warm, Rainy Weather Brings Flood Threat

A very active weather pattern is evolving over the Finger Lakes for the next few days, bringing a variety of significant threats to the region.

The first threat will be flooding.

Temperatures are on the rise across the Finger Lakes with many places already into the 40s Thursday morning.

High temperatures Thursday afternoon should push into the upper 40s and 50s and remain in that range through the overnight and into Friday.

After a few morning showers, most of the daytime hours should be relatively dry today.

However, an area of rain is expected to develop tonight as tropical moisture works its way north.

Extreme amounts of moisture, on the order of 500% of what is normal for January, will push into the Finger Lakes, resulting in locally heavy rain tonight into Friday.

There is still some uncertainty on where the heaviest rain sets up, but it should be somewhere near or over the Finger Lakes.

Rainfall amounts over an inch are possible within the band of heaviest rain.

Combined with the snowmelt, significant rises are expected on small streams and even larger rivers, many of which are still ice covered.

As the ice breaks up, it can get caught on river banks and bridge supports, causing a jam to form. Rapid rises in water then occur upstream until the dam breaks, when rapid rises downstream occur.

In addition to the ice jam threat, small streams and basement flooding will also be possible, especially in the localized corridor of heaviest rain.

Severe Winter Storm Unfolds

It is becoming increasingly likely that a severe winter storm will impact the Finger Lakes, beginning mere hours after temperatures are in the 50s Friday afternoon.

A strong cold front will move from northwest to southeast through the Finger Lakes Friday afternoon, quickly sending temperatures from the 50s into the 20s and 30s.

At the same time, a strong low pressure system will move across Pennsylvania and into New England, spreading very heavy precipitation back into the Finger Lakes, starting late Friday afternoon.

finger lakes weather forecast snow map friday january 12 2018 saturday january 13 2018 ice storm
A preliminary estimate of expected snow amounts Friday night into Saturday. This forecast remains very uncertain and may need to be updated. Uncertainty is highest over the eastern Finger Lakes and Central New York. Click the map to enlarge.

At first, there will be enough warm air aloft to cause a period of freezing rain. A quick glazing of ice is likely for most areas, with more significant ice accumulations possible across the eastern Finger Lakes into Central New York.

Freezing rain will turn to heavy snow Friday night, again from northwest to southeast. At some point, the transition to snow will slow down and stop, likely over Central New York.

For much of the Finger Lakes though, a prolonged period of very heavy snow is likely Friday night through Saturday morning. Snow will linger into Saturday afternoon, especially over the eastern Finger Lakes as the storm system pulls away.

Snow totals remain quite uncertain due to sensitivities to storm strength and the transition of ice to snow. However, despite the low confidence, I am starting to see enough consistency to at least take a stab at snow totals.

An area of 16-24″ is possible near Lake Ontario and into the northwestern half of the Finger Lakes. Widespread amounts of a foot or more are possible.

The snow totals on the northwest edge of the system, back towards Buffalo, and especially over the eastern Finger Lakes are extremely uncertain.

Remember, areas that see LESS snow will see MORE ice, so the threat for severe winter weather exists all across the area.

Travel will be extremely difficult all across the region on Saturday and should be discouraged.

Cold temperatures and areas of lake effect snow showers are likely behind this system Sunday into Monday. High temperatures on Sunday will struggle to reach 10 degrees with wind chills below zero.

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Follow Meteorologist Drew Montreuil:
Meteorologist Drew Montreuil has been forecasting the weather in the Finger Lakes region since 2006 and has degrees in meteorology from SUNY Oswego (B.S. with Honors) and Cornell (M.S.). Drew and his wife have four young boys. When not working or playing with the boys, he is probably out for a run through the countryside.

11 Responses

  1. Karen

    will rt 81 be OK between 12 pm and 4 pm on Friday is what I meant to say. Thanks.

    • Meteorologist Drew Montreuil

      Yes Karen it should be mostly dry with just a few scattered rain showers during that time.

  2. Karen

    will rt 81 between Binghamton and Syracuse be OK from 12 pm to 4 pm?Thanks

  3. Deb

    Hi Drew….traveling to Niagara Falls on Friday night via the thruway….returning on Sunday….how’s it looking for travel?

    • Meteorologist Drew Montreuil

      Friday night travel is going to be very very difficult if not nearly impossible.

  4. Christen Davis

    Geneva looks like it is going to get quite a bit on the map, but we tend to be in a little bubble of nothing. Exciting to se ehow much we get!

  5. Shawn

    Thank you very much! I really appreciate your service because I travel from Maryland to Geneva quite a bit and your forecast is always spot on for what I need.

  6. James Norwalk

    Drew, I’m planning on a quick trip to Buffalo for a Saturday overnight and then a push to puick someone up at the airport in Toronto early Sunday. Is there a time frame you’d recommend I try this or should I stay in Geneva and make other plans for my arriving family?

    • Meteorologist Drew Montreuil

      Hi James. The later Saturday you can go the better. The snow will end from southwest to northeast around midday but expect messy roads into the afternoon as it will take time to clean up.

  7. Shawn

    Quick question,

    If I live in Geneva, what would you consider that area of the finger lakes to be when you mention central new york, eastern finger lakes, southern tier, northwestern half…..etc?

    • Meteorologist Drew Montreuil

      I would say northwest half. Don’t get too caught up on those labels though. They are generic because the weather does not follow our made up boundaries and definitions. The zip code forecasts and my maps are your friend for specifics.