Big lake effect snow, 2014-11-17 to 11-19

John Farley

Things are shaping up for a potentially near-record lake effect snow event off the east ends of Lakes Erie and Ontario from tonight into Wednesday. Lapse rates will be steep with temps as low as -40C at 500mb above the still fairly-warm lakes. NWS Buffalo is expecting 3-5 inch-per-hour accumulations at times in the heaviest bands, and thundersnow is a good bet with this event. Some areas could see 2-3 feet, with another lake effect event likely coming quickly on the heels of this one late in the week. If I were located anywhere near this area, which I am not, I would be tempted to chase this. Just be well-prepared if you do, though, getting stuck in near-blizzard conditions is a definite possibility.
Looks like this will be a historic storm, with already four feet in some areas and snow rates of up to 4 inches per hour. Also, as expected, thundersnow. I see Reed Timmer and Mike Bettes are on this - anyone else?

Here is an impressive picture that is making the rounds of the Internet:
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Dad's side of the family still lives in Buffalo and surrounding areas (Lackawanna and Hamburg). There is easily over two feet already and people are starting to abandon their cars now all over the place. Also looks like the worst of this is gonna just pop a squat over southern Buffalo and all the towns/suburbs to the south due to a pretty extreme temperature gradient aloft and decent CAA coming off the lake. Hopefully the Duff's doesn't get snowed in.
Looking at GRL3, there have been several mesos and even a brief TVS along the northern edge of the band right where it is hitting shore. Intense lake-effect squalls like this one have actually been known to produce brief waterspouts or tornadoes, although with snow coming down several inches per hour you would probably never be able to see them.
I can't even imagine what seeing something rolling in like that would feel like knowing that it's blinding snow instead of dust. It's like a snowboob.
It's interesting to see the strong upward vertical motion prevalent in the midst of the heavy snow. Wish I could have been there for that one.
The Weather Channel talked to Reed Timmer who is there a while ago. Like others they are stuck on the road. Timmer said they have moved something like 300 yards in little over an hour.
Storm total now 60 inches near Lancaster and Gardenville, NY, and 57 in West Seneca. Not sure over what time period, but based on the times of the reports (6-8 pm), can't be too much more than 24 hours. The location of the main band has barely shifted over the entire duration of the event.
I wonder what the snow ratios are in this particular lake-effect snow event. I would guess they tend to be fairly low since the snow probably forms not far off the lake surface where temperatures are much closer to freezing. I may be wrong about that, though. It certainly was very cold once you got up to 925-850 mb. The SWE from the Buffalo airport over the last two days is about 34:1, but I can't find any numerical data for areas just to the south and east.
I heard on the Weather Channel around 15:1. Not sure how accurate that is, but I guess they got it from somewhere.

Edit: New lake effect snow band is now over Buffalo, including the airport, with thundersnow in the area and 1/8 mi. visibility at the NWS office.
Yesterday and today the official SWE at the Buffalo airport was very close to 15:1. Props to TWC if they called that in real time (i'm sure there was a model analysis or forecast used to come up with that number).

Using NOHRSC data (URL:; only the images...I didn't mess around with any gridded data even though they offer it), it looks like the current SWE on the ground is a bit lower...closer to 5:1 to 7.5:1. But that's a very broad guess. One data point I tried out was close to 3:1.