Whiteouts, treacherous travel to hit Great Lakes as lake-effect snow persists into Friday night

By Renee Duff, AccuWeather meteorologist
January 26, 2019, 4:03:04 AM EST

Lake-effect snow showers and heavier squalls will bring about dangerous travel conditions for motorists across the Great Lakes through the start of the weekend.

Cold winds streaming over the Great Lakes helped trigger the snow showers and squalls on Thursday night, with Buffalo, New York, recording 3 inches of snow in one hour.

As the intense band of snow focused on areas south of the city, totals reached nearly 14 inches around Boston, New York.

Snow showers will continue to stream off the lakes into Saturday morning.

The snow showers and heavier squalls can turn roadways from dry to snow-covered, icy and slippery within a few miles, including on stretches of interstates 75, 81, 86, 90, 94, 96 and 196.

“Travel will be difficult as visibility can go from several miles to less than a quarter of a mile in a matter of seconds,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Rathbun said.

I-90 Dunkirk Jan 25

Snow covered Interstate 90 at the Dunkirk, New York, interchange as lake-effect snow hit western New York on Friday morning, Jan. 25, 2019. (Web Image/New York State Department of Transportation)

Such visibility drops are notorious for leading to chain-reaction accidents on the roadways.

Gusty winds are forecast to accompany the snow, leading to further reductions in visibility. Blowing and drifting can also occur.

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Motorists should slow down as soon as snow begins to fall and if visibility is too poor, they should stop completely on the shoulder with emergency flashers on until weather conditions improve.

Download the free AccuWeather app to know exactly when snow will arrive and exit your area, as well as how much accumulation to expect.

Since the snow bands are not expected to sit over one location for a long period of time but rather shift around, Rathbun does not expect this event to produce the extreme amounts of snow, on the order of feet, that can fall during prolonged lake-effect episodes.

Still, enough snow to disrupt daily routines and break out shovels and plows is anticipated.

A general 3-6 inches of snow can pile up in the traditional snow belt areas.

Lake effect Jan 25

However, there can be localized areas where totals range from 1-2 feet, including parts of northern Michigan and New York state.

“A band of snow may set up downwind of lakes Erie and Ontario Friday night and bring heavier, steadier amounts of snow,” Rathbun said. “This includes the Tug Hill Plateau and ski country of southwestern New York.”

People with hopes to hit the ski slopes this weekend will be sure to enjoy the fresh powder.

NE Sunday Jan 25

A persistent cold pattern and an active storm track will keep more rounds of snow coming for parts of the Midwest and Northeast this weekend into early next week.

Outside of lake-effect snow, the most significant round of snow may sweep from Minneapolis to Chicago and Detroit Sunday into Monday.

That will be followed by another Arctic blast which can be the harshest of the winter in the Midwest and bring a repeat of the brutal cold endured by the Northeast earlier this week.

Winter storms create a unique set of challenges in the Northeast compared to other areas of the country. Great minds often come together to face the challenge. AccuWeather Meteorologist Dave Dombeck joins WABC New York's Chief Meteorologist, Lee Goldberg to talk about their years of collaboration taking on the big storms.

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