The southern portion of the City of Buffalo, NY and the towns that fall ~20 miles to its south and 10 miles southeast have been enduring a Lake Effect Snow event that started on Tuesday, November 18th and, except for a brief lull on Wednesday afternoon, continues today at the time of this writing. Driving bans are in place on thousands of miles of roads, including nearly a 200 mile stretch of Interstate 90. Hundreds of cars and 16-wheelers have been stuck and many abandoned leaving a nightmare for the road crews attempting to remove the snow.
Immediate family members living in South Buffalo have had upwards of five feet of snow fall in about a 36 hour period. Meanwhile, about 10 miles south of the city, my daughter contended with 3+ feet and here in West Falls, 5 miles further south, we “enjoyed” the same. However, since 2:00am this morning, another 3 feet have fallen at my home and nearly as much at my daughter’s place. Complicating the situation are sustained winds running between 20 and 30 miles per hour accompanied by temps ranging from 15 to 25F. I’ve lived in this region for several decades and only once recall a lake effect snow event of this scale but the area effected was much more narrow – about 10 by 10 miles – where 7 feet of snow fell over 3 days.
Lake effect is common in the Great Lakes region and in the Western New York area its effects historically most often have been reserved to towns that are 10 or more miles south of the City of Buffalo (we call this more southerly region the “Snow Belt”). But each year, the most paralyzing of storms increasingly have been creeping northward affecting much more populated places where the results are more difficult to address.
The science of lake effect is very well documented (see Ah, Lake Effect for details) but climate change is altering the typical patterns of weather in North America and it’s being reflected in the lake effect precipitation of Western New York. The northward movement of Western New York’s “snow belt” indicates a change in the wind patterns that come across Lake Erie in late Autumn and early Winter, prime lake effect season. Winds at this time of year most often come from the west or northwest, driving the moisture picked up from Lake Erie about 10 or more miles south of the City of Buffalo where it is drops in the form of rain or snow upon reaching land. But these wind patterns are changing and more frequently are coming out of the southwest, crossing a larger area of the lake picking up even more moisture. The resulting precipitation, therefore, is landing on the extreme south end of the city and its immediate southern and eastern suburbs and in far greater amounts than the traditional “snow belt” usually experiences.
We’re hanging in there currently and weather forecasters believe this massive snow event will finally shift to the more traditional snow belt regions sometime tonight. The relief is definitely needed but there is an ominous prediction in the next few days. Temperatures will be increasing by 20 to 30 degrees and a two-day rain event is said to begin on Sunday. With up to 6 or 7 feet of snow on the ground, this rapid warming and rain can easily create some severe flooding and roof collapses. Some roofs have already buckled and people rescued. Any damage that might occur in the next few days is also a major economic concern considering that most people under the gun of this storm do not have flood insurance as they are not in flood zones. We’ll keep you updated as well as we can.
Meanwhile, check out this visual of Lake Effect in action. This time-lapse video taken during the first wave lake effect snow earlier this week shows how cold air passing over Lake Erie causes moisture to literally be sucked up into the clouds which will then fall once it begins to pass over land. Nature’s most awesome power in action.