Parts of New York state are reeling Thursday from a blizzard that could shut down roads and paralyze cities for days.
“This event will have the real potential to produce foot-crippling snowfall for the Buffalo and Watertown metro areas,” the National Weather Service in Buffalo said.
The brutal blizzard began on Wednesday and is expected to cause treacherous road conditions at least through the weekend.
“Visibility will drop to zero at times and roads will be covered in snow making travel dangerous to near impossible,” the National Weather Service said.
By Wednesday night, the storm had already dumped 10 inches of snow on South Wales, about 25 miles southeast of Buffalo. The nearby town of Colden was hit with more than 8 inches of snow, the weather service said.
And the worst is yet to come.
The heaviest snow is expected to begin Thursday evening and continue through Friday, with more heavy snow bouts through the weekend, the weather service said.
“It’s going to be a very prolonged lake-effect snow event east of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario,” National Weather Service meteorologist John Hitchcock told CNN.
Areas downwind of Lakes Erie and Ontario may be affected by thunder and lightning on top of the snow.
Several feet of snow are also expected Thursday and Friday in the Buffalo and Watertown areas of New York and northwestern Pennsylvania, the National Weather Service said.
Snow could fall at a rate of 3 inches per hour in some places, with snow piles up to 4 feet in some areas.
Some parts of Indiana and northeast Ohio have already received more than a foot of snow, CNN meteorologist Dave Henen said.
And more than 5 million people around the Great Lakes are under snow warnings Thursday.
The areas are affected by lake-effect snow – what happens when very cold wind conditions form over a not-so-cold lake.
A lake, for example, may be about 40 degrees, while the air temperature can be well below zero.
“That difference in temperatures creates some instability and the water provides a source of moisture,” CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said. “When it passes over land, it deposits water vapor as snow.”
Commercial traffic will be closed starting at 4 p.m. Thursday on about 130 miles of the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) in the Rochester and Buffalo area to the Pennsylvania border, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office said.
Residents should take precautions – and take care of each other, urged the head of the country’s emergency services.
“Don’t underestimate this storm,” said Jackie Bray, commissioner of the New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
“We should all check on our neighbors, especially vulnerable neighbors, to help them prepare for the winter weather in the forecast.”
New York’s governor plans to declare a state of emergency on Thursday, she said.
“My team and I are deploying emergency response assets ahead of the storm, staying in constant contact with local officials and laser-focused on the forecast,” Hochul said in a press release.
“New Yorkers should remain alert for the storm and avoid any unnecessary travel in these dangerous conditions.”