Phase 1: Thursday-Early Friday
A powerful storm system is delivering high to extreme impact winter weather, relative to each region, across a large portion of the country.
Nearly every county from Montana to Maine, Texas to Florida, has some sort of winter weather alert in effect. Blizzard warnings dot the map from the Dakotas to Buffalo, and Wind Chill Warnings extend to the Texas-Mexico border.
Yet, for us here in the Finger Lakes, we will end up relatively sheltered from the significant impacts felt nearby and elsewhere, though that is not to say the next few days will be a quiet stroll down Christmas Lane.
So, here is the Finger Lakes-centric, honest, clear-cut forecast you need so that you can prepare, plan, and stay safe over the coming days.
The first phase of this event is quickly moving north through Pennsylvania this morning and will push into the Southern Tier within a couple of hours. This is an area of snow associated with a push of warmer air out ahead of the primary low pressure system.
This snow should cross the NY-PA line between 9-10 AM and will overtake the region between Noon and 1 PM. Many areas across the northern Finger Lakes will see either a rain-snow mix, or just rain at the onset of the precipitation.
Through the afternoon, there will be an increase in rain and a decrease in snow. Some higher elevations of the Southern Tier may hold on to snow until around sunset, but with no more than a slushy inch or two of accumulation. Many areas will see little to no accumulation.
With temperatures generally above freezing, roads should remain in fair to good conditions. Travel is not expected to be majorly impacted today, except in rural, higher elevation routes.
This evening, all rain will fall, and it may fall heavily at times. Up to an inch of rain will be possible, not counting snowmelt, which could result in some minor poor drainage and small stream flooding. The flood threat is not appreciable enough for any flood watches, though.
Wind Advisories are in place for the eastern half of the region as southeast winds kick up after sunset. Wind gusts up to 50 mph will be possible, with locally higher gusts over higher elevations. Further west, the wind will be blustery, but not overly hazardous.
The wind and rain will gradually taper off during the predawn hours, and very early Friday morning will be characterized by a brief lull in the weather. During this time, temperatures, which will rise during the night, will peak, with upper 30s west of Keuka Lake, and low and mid 40s to the east.
Phase 2- Friday Flash Freeze
Precipitation will increase again across the Finger Lakes, spreading from west to east during the 7-10 AM time frame. Precipitation will start as rain, but a powerful cold front will quickly change precipitation over to snow. A brief burst of snow is expected, which could put down a quick half-inch or so.
More importantly, temperatures will begin a free fall. By noon, temperatures will mostly be falling through the 20s, and by 3 PM, temperatures in the 10s will be widespread.
This rapid drop in temperatures, accompanied by wet roads and snowfall, will lead to the potential for a flash freeze on the roads. Icy, dangerous conditions will be possible immediately as this occurs and will continue until road crews can treat the surfaces.
Once the rain turns to snow, road crews should immediately begin treating the roads in a pre-emptive move to combat the flash freeze, as the snow should begin before the freeze.
The timing of the freeze is estimated as follows:
8-10 AM: Areas along and west of I-390
9-11 AM: Areas between I-390 and about Cayuga Lake
10 AM—Noon: Areas east of Cayuga Lake
I will continue to work on fine-tuning this timing.
In addition to the snow and rapid drop in temperatures, southwest winds will increase substantially. Wind gusts throughout the Finger Lakes will be 35-45 mph, but areas near and west of I-390 may see localized gusts over 50 mph.
There are no specific wind alerts for these winds. Instead, the wind information is contained in Wind Chill Advisories to the east, and to the west, Winter Weather Advisories, Winter Storm Warnings, and just outside of the region, Blizzard Warnings.
Phase 3- Lake Effect and Wind Chills
Behind the main area of precipitation associated with the cold front, snow showers may linger across the Finger Lakes throughout Friday afternoon. By Friday evening, the snow should dissipate as lake effect takes over.
With southwest winds in place, the heavy lake effect snows will be in and around Buffalo, extending into Genesee and western Monroe counties. To the north, lake effect off Lake Ontario will be in the Watertown area.
The cold temperatures and strong winds will blow snow around throughout the region, however. This will keep road conditions messy, especially since it will be cold enough that road salt will be less effective.
Temperatures Friday night will be near zero in the Southern Tier, ranging up to around 10 degrees along the lake shores. With the strong winds, wind chill values will be near or below negative twenty.
For much of Saturday, the lake effect will primarily remain outside of the Finger Lakes. Some occasional snow showers will be possible and blowing snow will continue. Most areas should see little additional accumulation. Heavy snow will continue between Buffalo and Batavia, with lighter accumulations in the surrounding areas.
High temperatures on Saturday will range from the single digits in parts of the Southern Tier, to the mid 10s across the northern Finger Lakes. Wind gusts of 35-45 mph will persist, with sub-zero wind chills common.
The wind will begin to diminish Saturday night with gusts mostly near or under 30 mph. These winds will remain from the southwest and will continue to produce areas of blowing and drifting snow and sub-zero wind chills.
Temperatures will not change much Saturday night, sticking to the single digits and lower half of the 10s. During the day on Sunday, highs will range from the mid 10s in higher elevations to the mid 20s along the shore of Lake Ontario. Most areas should be around or just above 20 degrees.
The wind will continue to gust just under 30 mph but will take on a bit more of a westerly component. This, in turn, should spread some snow off Lake Erie at least into the western Finger Lakes, if not much of the region. Persistent snows may accumulate several inches, with more blowing and drifting likely.
I will have more details on next week’s weather on the other side of this weekend. Suffice it to say for now that quiet weather is expected with slowly warming temperatures. Most of the week will have highs in the 20s, but a significant warm up is expected as we close out 2022 and open up the new year.
I will be unavailable to answer questions this morning and most of the afternoon. I will get back to you on your questions for the weekend this evening. For an overly simplistic, but still adequate rule of thumb: try to avoid travel during the late morning-midday time frame on Friday, and don’t head towards Buffalo or Watertown between Friday and Sunday.
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This graphic represents an average over the entire Finger Lakes region. Localized variations should be expected.
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Please don’t forget to remind people that pets should not be left outside and livestock will be susceptible to frostbite (ears are particularly susceptible). There should be shelter or at least windbreaks available.