More than five feet of snow is on the ground near Buffalo, New York, and a few more feet could fall by Thursday night. Some communities could see up to eight feet of snow by the time the storm is done. Governor Cuomo has called in the National Guard to dig out the buried region.
The snowstorm hitting the Buffalo and Watertown areas is an extreme example of a single-band lake effect snow event—the storm was a perfect example for this afternoon's explainer on how lake effect snow forms. The persistent nature of the band has dropped snow at rates of 4-5 inches an hour just south of Buffalo pretty consistently since last night.
The image at the top of this post was taken by an Associated Press photographer near Buffalo, New York, this afternoon. The photographer reports that the fence in the foreground is four feet tall. There's also an SUV and a row of single-family homes under that snow, if you look closely.
Earlier this evening, avid shouter/tornado chaser Reed Timmer called into The Weather Channel and reported that residents near Lackawanna (a few miles south of Buffalo) measured 70 inches (5.8 feet) of snow this afternoon, and it's still coming down at a steady pace as of 8:15 PM Eastern. The National Weather Service expects that this band will die down tonight, only for another powerful lake effect snow event to ramp up tomorrow night through Thursday, dropping up to two more feet of snow on already-buried communities.
While the focus has been on Buffalo, communities around Watertown are also dealing with beaucoup snow, with totals exceeding three feet in many spots.
The snowfall gradient is what makes this storm so astounding for people who don't live in the area buried under monumental snowfall. Take these two reports phoned into the National Weather Service office in Buffalo this afternoon. A member of the public phoned in a report to the National Weather Service from three miles north of Cheektowaga, New York, reporting 2.0 inches of snow. Five miles to the south, a trained weather spotter reported 48 inches of snow.
That gradient isn't a fluke or a faulty report—it's the nature of single-band lake effect snow events. There's a viral video going around that was taken from a skyscraper in Buffalo, showing the immense wall of lake effect snow ripping ashore south of town, while the weather is perfectly calm in the city proper.
Here are some pictures to help you visualize the immensity of this storm:
I have seen a lot of lake effect snow growing up in buffalo but never anything like this!And that's a main highway pic.twitter.com/DnfZuamfNf
— Brett Kern (@brettkern6) November 19, 2014
— Johnny Kelly (@stormchaser4850) November 19, 2014
— SevereStudios (@severestudios) November 18, 2014
While so much snow (and so much snow falling over such a short duration) is extremely dangerous in and of itself, here's one factor that I'm extremely concerned about, and not many weather outlets are mentioning—the potential for dangerous flooding next week.
Here's a look at one weather model's forecast highs and lows for the next few days. Temperatures could spike up into the 50s by the end of the weekend and early next week, accompanied by rain.
A sudden spike well above freezing combined with rainfall poses a very dangerous problem for communities experiencing these momentous snowfall totals. It could create some major flooding issues early next week, and it's a situation we'll have to watch closely.
While this isn't the most intense lake effect snow storm on record by any means, it's going to go down as one of the most memorable for sure, and it's not even Thanksgiving. We've got a whole, long winter to go.
[Images: AP, Gibson Ridge, WeatherBELL]