Prime features: The Lake Erie snow band brought the season's first significant lake effect snows for northern portions of Metro Buffalo. The Lake Ontario band had an impressive inland extent, reaching all the way across northern New York into Vermont.
On the evening of Thursday January 30th, a rapidly deepening storm system moved
eastward from Lake Huron, tracking north of Lake Ontario to southwestern Quebec.
A strong cold front which extended south of the center of the storm shifted across New York
State, which brought strong winds and a sharp drop in temperatures. Wind gusts of 59 mph were
observed at Buffalo, Rochester and Watertown just behind the cold front.
Temperatures hit the mid 60s on Wednesday, then fell off sharply behind the front through the 40s
to the 30s and 20s by Thursday morning. Behind this storm system, from Thursday through
Saturday (Groundhog Day), a strong surface high pressure area built into the
Northern Plains from the Canadian Prairies then tracked across the Central Plains to
the southeastern states. This helped keep a westerly flow of very cold air moving
over the still unfrozen Great Lakes which triggered lake effect snows downwind of both lakes.
Off Lake Erie, a narrow but intense band of lake effect snow developed late Thursday
morning across Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties, which for a time reached as far
east as Steuben County. By the afternoon the winds backed to west-southwest and the band
lifted north bringing lake snows into southern Erie and Wyoming Counties. Early Friday morning,
an upper level shortwave trough shifted across the region as surface high pressure dipped into
the Central Plains. This shifted the snow band back south under a northwest flow. The
shorter fetch produced multi-band lake effect over Ski Country east of the lake.
The lake effect remained fairly disorganized through much of Friday until late Friday
evening when the approach of another upper level shortwave and weak surface low reorganized
the lake effect into an intense single band. This helped to steer the lake band back north
where it reached the Buffalo Southtowns near midnight Friday. Early Saturday morning the band
lifted further north over Metro Buffalo then into the Northtowns. A brief shift to the south
brought a second round of snow back over the city center, then back north again to the
Northtowns overnight. Snowfall rates varied from one to as much as three inches of snow
per hour. This southwest to northeast oriented snow band brought northern Erie County its
first significant lake effect snow for this winter season. Through much of Saturday the
band settled over Grand Island and southern Niagara County where snow piled up over a foot
in spots. Finally the upper level shortwave passed to the east of the lakes. This caused
snow bands to sag south and break up over Erie County through the overnight.
The greatest snow totals off Lake Erie fell across the Southern Tier where narrow but
intense bands of snow brought localized amounts of over two feet of snow. Significant
snows over one foot also fell across Grand Island and southern Niagara County. Much of
the Greater Buffalo area had a large gradient in snow totals ranging from 3 inches to
around a foot due to the transient nature of the band on Saturday morning.
Off Lake Ontario, disorganized lake snows following the cold frontal passage organized
into a narrow but intense band of snow over southern Jefferson County by Thursday afternoon
as winds aligned down the long axis of the lake. This band then sagged south across central
Oswego County by evening where an upstream moisture connection with Lakes Superior and Huron
helped the snow band extend well inland east of the lake were snow fell as far as central and
southern Vermont! Snowfall rates of up to 2 inches per hour were observed on the Montague
weather radar. By Friday morning, the lake band began to push south over the southern shore
of Lake Ontario as the surface high shifted south over the Central Plains and the axis of
the upper level trough passed east of New York. This allowed for a northwest flow over the
western end of the lake with heavy lake snows falling from Niagara County east along the
southern lakeshore to Wayne County. Visibilities dropped to 1/2 mile or lower and multiple
accidents were reported on I-190 in Niagara County and across Metro Rochester during the morning
rush hour. Through much of the rest of Friday, disorganized multi bands brought scattered
lake snows to counties south of the western end of the lake. By Friday evening an approaching
upper level shortwave trough helped to re-intensify the band with additional forcing. The
band lifted north from the southeastern corner of the lake to Jefferson County by Saturday
morning with heavy snow for the Watertown area. Some of the highest snowfall rates of this
event were observed Saturday evening across northern Jefferson County. Three to four inches
per hour occurred as the Ontario band picked up extra moisture from the Lake Erie band which
extended into the western end of Lake Ontario. As this upper level shortwave passed overhead
and east of the area, the band shifted back south and fell apart over northern Oswego County
The greatest snow totals off Lake Ontario fell during two periods. The first was Thursday
afternoon and night where 6 to as much as 21 inches were measured in central Oswego and southern
Lewis Counties. The second period was Saturday evening across northern Jefferson County where 8 to 16
inches were observed.
This storm had some very impressive snowfall rates with snow bands extending well inland at
times due to a nice connection with upstream lakes. Snowfall totals were not overly impressive
for a three day event, mainly due to the transient nature of the bands. This also created some travel
impacts during the Friday morning rush hour and again on Saturday when many residents take to the
streets for shopping. This storm therefore earns 3 *** stars.