Why Buffalo will measure snow in feet this week

A lake effect snowstorm in 2019 buried parts of Buffalo. Another significant snow event is likely this week (File Photo) (Jennifer Gray/CNN)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city of Buffalo and most of western New York is gearing up for an epic snow event later this week.

Lake effect snow is expected to increase dramatically, with parts of the city possibly buried under 3 to 4 feet of snow.

That’s right — 3 to 4 FEET of snow.

Asst. Chief Meteorologist David Heckard looks at lake effect snow and some big impacts for western New York.

The lake effect snow machine

Buffalo is well-known for its snow.

The city averages 95.4 inches of snow a year. That’s nearly 8 feet of snow, making Buffalo one of the snowiest cities in the entire United States.

A large part of the massive snowfall is the lake effect snow that develops every fall and winter.

But what exactly is lake effect snow?

Lake effect snow occurs when cold air moves over the warmer waters of the Great Lakes.

The warmer waters increase the moisture in the atmosphere, which produces clouds and snow over land. These clouds and snow often develop in tight corridors called lake effect snow bands.

Lake effect snow develops when cold air pushes over the warm lake water.

It is common to see snowfall rates of 2 to 3 inches per hour in lake effect snow bands.

The snow bands are often very concentrated and isolated. It is common for some areas to receive 2 feet of snow, while just a few miles down the road snowfall totals may be below 6 inches.

These snow bands always develop downwind of the lakes. With winds typically out of the west and northwest, this puts the snow bands often southeast and east of the Great Lakes.

This is why cities like Chicago and Milwaukee pick up minimal lake effect snowfall, while other areas like Cleveland and Buffalo receive abundant lake effect snow.

This week’s setup

The setup for lake effect snow in Buffalo is highly favorable this week, which is why alarms are sounding for the significant snow that is likely ahead.

The closest lake to Buffalo — Lake Erie — remains quite warm. This will allow moisture to be pushed upwards into the atmosphere. This will allow heavy snow to develop.

Winds will also be strong out of the west-southwest. This will likely place a significant snow band right over parts of the city of Buffalo.

The wind will likely remain consistent out of the west-southwest, which will keep the snow band over the same areas of multiple hours.

Finally, the atmosphere may become a bit unstable. This could produce thundersnow, which is literally a thunderstorm that produces snow.

These events not only produce lightning and thunder but can dump huge amounts of snow in a limited period of time.

It is not uncommon to see snowfall rates of 3 to 4 inches per hour during thundersnow.

The historic nature

While Buffalo is used to heavy snow, the event this week could be historic — especially for November.

The official forecast has the city receiving a storm total between 31 to 47 inches.

That’s nearly 3 to 4 feet of snow through Saturday.

Lake effect snowfall totals in Western New York.

Snow of that magnitude will likely cripple transportation throughout the city.

Scattered power outages will also be likely due to the strong wind and heavy snow on trees. Some roofs may also fail due to the weight of the snow.

The record snowfall in Buffalo for Friday is just 8.2 inches, and this will likely be shattered.

The daily November record snowfall is 24.9 inches, and this could be in jeopardy.

However, all-time records are unlikely.

In 2001, a snow event dumped 56.1 inches of snow on the city.

And the snowiest year was the winter of 1976-77, when a spectacular 199.4 inches of snow fell that winter season.

For a city and a region used to heavy snow, this upcoming event will be intense and could be historic in nature.


About the Author:

David Heckard is The Weather Authority's Assistant Chief Meteorologist.