An impressive and potentially historic lake-effect snow event is unfolding across parts of Upstate New York. As cold air pours over the relatively warm waters of Lakes Erie and Ontario, intense snow bands are developing that could bury communities downwind under up to 30 inches of snow.
The National Weather Service has posted lake-effect snow warnings that will remain in effect through early Wednesday morning for areas east and southeast of Lakes Erie and Ontario. Locations expected to bear the brunt of the snow include the Buffalo metro area, the Tug Hill Plateau, Watertown and Syracuse. Strong winds accompanying the snow could sometimes result in blizzard conditions with whiteout visibility.
Once the snow develops Monday afternoon, it may continue nonstop through Tuesday night in the most persistent bands. Snowfall rates within the most intense bands could exceed 3 inches per hour, which is an astonishing amount of snow to fall in such a short period. That kind of snow can rapidly bury roadways and strand motorists.
The snow will be very powdery and fluffy in nature, allowing it to pile high. However, strong winds may result in significant blowing and drifting snow that could make travel extremely difficult, if not impossible. Wind gusts could reach 40-50 mph, creating ground blizzards. Interstates 80, 90 and 91 may have to close if conditions deteriorate far enough.
In addition to the high winds and blinding snow, a bit of thunder and lightning is also possible to accompany the heaviest snow bands Monday night as very strong lift and instability is present in the atmosphere. The claps of thunder will only enhance the already impressive wintry scene across the region.
So, for communities downwind of Lakes Erie and Ontario, the next 48 hours will be an extended period of dangerous winter weather that could cripple travel and bring daily activities to a halt under piles of lake-effect snow. This is a historic snow event in the making.