Up to five feet of lake effect snow forecast for Buffalo, New York

ABC News

(NEW YORK) – Western New York is bracing for an “extreme” lake-effect snowstorm that could dump up to 5 feet of snow in the Buffalo area over the next few days.

A state of emergency has been declared for Erie County, which includes Buffalo. A county-wide driving ban is also in effect from Thursday evening, with only those authorized for emergency travel allowed to drive. Authorities will reevaluate the driving ban Friday morning and determine if it is necessary for the entire county, according to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

A lake effect snowfall warning is in effect until 1 a.m. Saturday for southern Erie County.

The long-lasting event is expected to bring belts of snow south of Buffalo and Watertown on Thursday, with “intense bands” of lake-effect snow in both cities Thursday evening, according to the National Weather Service in Buffalo.

Up to 5 feet of snow is possible for the area by Saturday morning. Winds of up to 35 mph are also forecast. Snowfall rates of 2 to 3 inches per hour are possible for the south side of Buffalo Friday morning.

“Travel could be very difficult, if not impossible,” the Buffalo National Weather Service warned. “The dangerous conditions will impact journeys from Thursday morning to Friday evening.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency in 11 counties due to the storm, with dangerous travel conditions and weaker power outages.

“It’s considered an extreme event,” Hochul said during a Thursday morning press briefing. “That means it’s dangerous. It also means that it is life threatening.

Hochul said conditions in Buffalo and other parts of western New York will be “very similar to 2014,” when the region saw more than 5 feet of snow during a killer storm.

More than 350 plows, 5,700 utility crews and the National Guard have been deployed and are standing by, she said. Parts of the New York State Thruway will also be closed to commercial traffic beginning at 4 p.m. Thursday.

“It can take several days,” Hochul said. “Cleaning up will take time.

Area schools are preparing for closures on Friday due to the storm, including in Buffalo.

The Erie County executive advised private businesses to close on Friday if the forecast holds.

“We’re going to have a doozy,” Poloncarz said during a Wednesday press briefing.

The city of Buffalo has brought in private contractors to manage the snow in addition to state support, according to Mayor Byron Brown.

“It’s not the normal snow event we get, so the public needs to be patient,” Brown told reporters. “It’s a big snowstorm.”

Sunday’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns has been moved to Detroit due to weather forecasts, the NFL announced Thursday. The game was originally scheduled to be played at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.

Lake-effect snow is common in late fall and early winter along the leeward shores of the Great Lakes, which is caused by cold air moving over the warmer waters of the Great Lakes. Big lakes.

In November 2014, more than 5 feet of lake-effect snow fell just east of Buffalo, in what was one of the largest winter events in the city’s history, according to the National Weather Service. There were 13 fatalities due to the storm. A second lake effect event a few days later dropped another 1 to 4 feet of snow in the same area, bringing the two storms’ total to nearly 7 feet.

Outside of New York, lake effect snow is expected in Erie, Pennsylvania and northeast of Cleveland, Ohio.

ABC News’ Kenton Gewecke, Max Golembo, Victoria Arancio and Brian Hartman contributed to this report.

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