Western New York is bracing for a historic wallop of snow that could dump 4 to 6 feet on the region through Sunday — including possible “thundersnow,” forecasters said.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and other state and local officials held a news conference in Buffalo on Thursday morning to urge New Yorkers to stay home until 7 p.m. Friday, when dangerous whiteout conditions are expected in an 11-county region stretching from the banks of Lake Erie to Watertown, north of Syracuse.
“What we’re talking about is a major, major storm. This is considered an extreme event, an extreme weather event. That means it’s dangerous; it also means it’s life-threatening,” the Democrat warned.
Hochul had declared a state of emergency Wednesday, allowing the government to deploy state resources to the region and put the National Guard on standby for rescue and recovery missions.
Officials said they had nearly 600 plows, 5,700 utility trucks and 42,000 tons of salt standing by. A 130-mile section of the New York State Thruway was shut down to traffic beginning at 4 p.m. along with secondary highways in the region.
Wind gusts approaching 40 miles per hour and snowfall of up to 4 inches an hour were expected to make driving nearly impossible, officials said.
“When it’s coming down at that rate, it is almost impossible to clear the road to make it safe to travel, so you have to let the snow accumulate,” Hochul cautioned.
Forecasters warned that the condition could bring what’s known as “thundersnow,” a thunderstorm that accumulates snow instead of rain, USA Today reported.
The furious storm was being fueled by lake effect snow, which is caused when cold winds from the north and northwest blow over the relatively warmer waters of the Great Lakes, Fox Weather meteorologist Geoff Bansen explained.
“When that happens, you get a lot of converging air at the surface and a lot of rising air in very narrow bands that cause very localized amounts of snow to kind of just dump out,” Bansen told The Post.
“You don’t typically see a lot of light snow with event of this magnitude; most of the snow is moderate to heavy, and it’s just a matter of where those moderate bands set up,” he explained.
“It could be whiteout conditions at point A, and then you go point B five miles up the road, it could be nothing.”
Jackie Bray, the commissioner of the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said many people are at risk of injury or death even in their own driveways.
“The most deaths that occur during winter weather events are deaths of exertion. Over 20 people died in 2014 in this region during that snowstorm, and most of those deaths were deaths from heart attacks due to exertion,” Bray said, referring to another monster storm that dumped up to 65 inches on parts of the region a week before Thanksgiving that year.
“When you get ready to shovel out, go slow, wear warm clothing and take extra breaks,” she advised.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz added, “If people go out in these conditions, they are putting their lives at risk, and they’re putting the lives at risk of the other individuals who then have to go out and try to save them. So please, stay home.”
School was already canceled Friday in the city of Buffalo, but a Sunday Bills game had yet to be postponed outside the hardy city, where residents are used to weathering storms like the 2014 blitz and a 2001 snowfall that dumped 56 inches of powder on residents over three days.
Still, Mayor Byron Brown warned that the latest projections were beyond the pale.
“This is not the normal snow event that we get, so the public has to be patient. The public can’t look at this as an average snowfall. This is a major snowstorm and we are prepared for it,” he said.