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New Lake Effect Snowstorm Pounding Buffalo With an Additional 2 - 3 Feet of Snow

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 3:46 PM GMT on November 20, 2014

A new lake effect snowstorm is pummeling snow-weary Buffalo, New York once again, where over a foot of new snow has fallen over regions that received five feet of snow on Tuesday. Once again, a persistent band of heavy snow coming off of the relatively warm waters of Lake Erie has settled over the southern and eastern suburbs of Buffalo, delivering prodigious snows of 3 - 5" per hour. The Buffalo Airport reported a heavy thunderstorm with snow at 4 am Thursday morning, and the band had dumped 10.7" of snow there as of 7 am EST. Buffalo radar shows that snow band then shifted to the south, and had set up about 10 - 20 miles farther south than Tuesday's band, over the southern suburbs of Buffalo. Lancaster, which was paralyzed by 63" of snow on Tuesday, has received another 12" so far today, giving them an astonishing 75" of snow--over six feet--this week. The snow band will move little until Thursday night, allowing up to 2 - 3 feet of snow to fall over some of the same regions that received 4 - 5 feet of snow on Tuesday. Extreme atmospheric instability due to relatively warm waters in the lake and near-record cold temperatures aloft are responsible for the intensity of the storm. Water temperatures are 45 - 54°F over the eastern end of Lake Erie, and were 45°F at the Environment Canada Port Colborne buoy at the east end of Lake Erie on Thursday morning. Temperatures at 5,000 feet altitude (850 mb) were 7°F (-14°C) Thursday morning, resulting in a phenomenal 45°F temperature difference between the surface and air aloft--a huge amount of instability.

Shifting winds will end the snow storm over the Buffalo region by Friday morning. The concerns for the region will shift to flooding this weekend, as a warm air mass with moderate rain moves in. The NWS in Buffalo advised Thursday morning that the combination of at least some rain and major snowmelt will bring the risk for significant flooding to the lake effect areas...both for small streams as well as some of the larger creeks and rivers. This would include the Buffalo area creeks...Cattaraugus Creek…and the creeks that drain the Tug Hill region. In urban sections of South Buffalo ponding/flooding may also occur as the large volume of melt water overloads drainage systems.

Figure 1. A snow canyon from the front door of a home in Orchard Park, New York, after 4+' of snow feel there on November 18, 2014. Image credit: Tanya Weston Muscato.

Figure 2. Buffalo radar at 10:12 am EST November 20, 2014 showed a band of heavy lake effect snow had set up just south of Buffalo, New York.

Most extreme Lake Erie snowstorm on record?
According to wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt, Tuesday's snowfall totals near Buffalo may challenge the official 24-hour snowfall record for the state of New York. The State Climate Extremes Committee (SCEC) lists the official record 24-hour snowfall for the state of New York as 49.0” on November 14 - 15, 1900. At least five suburbs of Buffalo on its south and east sides beat this mark on Tuesday, recording 51 - 60" of snow in 24 hours. The champions were was Lancaster and Gardenville, with 60" of snow in 24 hours. It is yet not clear if any of these reports will be worthy of official status, recognized by the SCEC. Mr. Burt notes, though, that the SCEC is rife with errors and probably should not be taken too seriously. Much greater 24-hour totals have been reported from various observers/sources over the years at multiple locations in New York. The greatest unofficial 24-hour total he is aware of is 68” at Adams, NY on Jan. 9, 1976. Also, 77” fell in Montague Township in 24 hours on Jan. 11 - 12, 1997. This value was discounted by the SCEC as a result of a small technicality due to one too many snow board measurements being taken (7 instead of 6). However, the figure itself was accepted as accurate, but not official since the observer made a small error in the timing of his snow accumulation measurements. Note that all of these record 24-hour snowfalls came in Lake Ontario's lake effect snow band, where higher terrain helps lift the air streaming off the lake to extract more snow. In Mr. Burt's words, "So far as Lake Erie events, I think this week's event one will go down as the most extreme on record.

Figure 3. A lake effect snow storm brought 57" of snow to West Seneca, New York on November 18, 2014. When you look at all the snow piled of the roof of this house, you can understand the concern about roof collapses, due to the weight of additional snow falling today, plus rain on top of the snow this weekend. Image credit: Kathryn Prociv.

Buffalo's worst snowstorm: January 1977
This week's storm did not significantly affect the mid through northern portions of metro Buffalo, including downtown, which is typical for a Lake Erie lake effect snowstorm--the heaviest snow falls south of the city. However, back in January 1977, a 5-day blizzard hit all of Western New York, including Buffalo. The combination of blowing snow, wind and Arctic temperatures resulted in hundreds of people being stranded in their cars. Because of constant whiteout conditions and life threatening wind chills, as well as the fact that nobody had cell phones back then to communicate in an emergency, 29 people lost their lives. Many were asphyxiated in their cars or froze to death from exposure.

Mr. Burt documents the history of lake effect snowstorms in his 2013 post, Lake Effect Snow Totals and Historical Perspective.

Video 1. Where's the fire hydrant? A dog attempts to deal with 5' of snow in Lancaster, New York after the lake-effect snow storm of November 18, 2014. Thanks go to wunderground member barbamz for posting this link in my blog comments.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather

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