Snowstorms hit parts of New York state on Thursday, with roads likely to be closed and cities paralyzed for days.
“This event will very likely produce crippling snowfall that can be measured in feet in the Buffalo and Watertown metro areas,” the National Weather Service in Buffalo said.
The ferocious snowstorm, which kicked off Wednesday, is expected to cause dangerous road conditions through at least the weekend.
“At times, visibility can drop to near zero and roads can be covered in snow, making travel dangerous or even impossible,” the National Weather Service said.
Wednesday night’s storm has already dumped 10 inches of snow in South Wales, about 25 miles southeast of Buffalo. More than 8 inches of snow fell in the nearby town of Cordon, the weather service said.
The worst is yet to come.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the heaviest snowfall was expected to begin Thursday night and continue into Friday, with more heavy snow falling over the weekend.
“This is going to be a very long lasting significant lake effect snow event east of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jon Hitchcock told CNN.
Downwind areas of Lake Erie and Ontario could experience thunder and lightning alongside the snow.
Several feet of snow are expected for the Buffalo and Watertown areas of New York state and northwestern Pennsylvania on Thursday and Friday, the National Weather Service said.
Snow rates could reach 3 inches per hour in some places, with some areas receiving up to 4 feet of snow.
Parts of Indiana and northeastern Ohio already had more than a foot of snow, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.
More than 5 million people were under snow warnings around the Great Lakes on Thursday.
These areas are being hit by lake effect snowfall — what happens when very cold, windy conditions develop over a not-so-cool lake.
For example, a lake might be around 40 degrees, while air temperatures can be well below freezing.
“The temperature difference creates some instability, and the water provides a source of moisture,” said CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller. “As it moves over land, it deposits water vapor as snow.”
Beginning at 4 p.m. Thursday, commercial traffic on the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) will be closed for approximately 130 miles from the Rochester and Buffalo area to the Pennsylvania border. Kathy Hochul’s office said.
The state’s emergency services chief urged residents to take precautions and look out for each other.
“Don’t underestimate this storm,” said New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray.
“We should all check in on our neighbors, especially vulnerable ones, to help them prepare for the forecast winter weather.”
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, maintaining constant communication with local officials and focusing on the forecast,” Hochul said at a news conference.
“New Yorkers should remain vigilant ahead of the storm and avoid any non-essential travel during these hazardous conditions.”