Feet of snow expected for western New York as prolonged ‘crippling’ lake effect snow begins tonight

For western New York, snow typically is no big deal. But this week’s lake effect snowfall in the region is expected to be “paralyzing,” forecasters say.

The multi-day snowfall is forecast to kick off Wednesday evening and run through much of the weekend, ending with snow measured in feet rather than inches for places in and around Buffalo and Watertown.

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Snow to intensify Thursday night

The first round of snow is expected Wednesday night and into Thursday morning with accumulations that could exceed 9 inches.

“This will be the start of a prolonged lake effect snow event which will likely include paralyzing snowfall for the Buffalo and Watertown areas late this week through the weekend,” the National Weather Service in Buffalo said.

As cold air moves in from Canada, it will race over the warmer water of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. That warmer water will cause the air to rise, forming clouds and eventually snow.

The wind will then push the clouds over areas east of the lake, dumping incredible amounts of snow — in this case — for days at a time.

Watch: What causes lake effect snow

The “crippling” lake-effect snow will intensify Thursday night, producing snowfall amounts that could be measured in feet for Buffalo and Watertown metro areas, according to the weather service in Buffalo.

Therefore, a lake-effect snow warning is in effect for the region stating 2 to 3 feet of snow accumulation is expected with the potential for up to 4 feet.

“Friday looks to be the worst day for the city [of Buffalo] as snow will be intense and fall at the rate of two to three inches per hour,” weather service in Buffalo meteorologist Jon Hitchcock told CNN.

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Winds on Friday also will be gusting as high as 35 mph. This will cause blowing snow and reduce visibility to only a few hundred feet at times, the weather service warned, making travel extremely difficult and dangerous.

“Some major roadways could temporarily close,” warns the Buffalo weather service. “The hazardous conditions will impact the Friday morning and evening commutes.”

Potential to be historic

There’s no doubt Buffalo has had its share of monster snow events.

Historical events include November 20, 2000, when many were stranded in their vehicles, as 2 feet of snow fell in less than 24 hours, and the twin storms that made “Snow-mageddon” (2014) infamous with over 5 feet of snow.

“It’s too early to say if we’re going to get that much snow,” Hitchcock said, “but [it] could be the worst event for the city of Buffalo in the past five or six years at least.”

The storms of November 2014 were the most remarkable weather event I’ve covered for CNN.

Flying into Buffalo, the snow looked like a curtain. There was a distinct dividing line from where the snow began and ended. On the ground, it was the same. Where we were staying barely had a dusting of snow. Less than 4 miles away the snow was up to our chests.

Watch: 2014 Buffalo snow event

The meteorology of that event was astonishing; to witness it was jaw dropping. It was also a reminder of how dangerous lake-effect snow can be.

The snow event in 2014 killed more than a dozen people. While it’s too early to say how this event will measure up, meteorologists say residents should be ready.

“The good thing is that it looks like the ‘band’ is going to be moving around for the weekend, instead of focusing on one particular location. But we could see several feet of snow in this event,” Hitchcock said. “People should be ready to stay in for the weekend.”

The event will likely continue into Sunday, impacting the Buffalo Bills game at 1 p.m, as they host the Cleveland Browns.

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