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You could say we are having a “good old-fashioned Buffalo winter.”

If this week proves anything, winter is back with a vengeance in 2013-14 after some comparatively easy years.

Buffalo Niagara caught the effects Thursday from a major winter storm that was expected to gain strength overnight and continue to pound the Northeast Friday in places like New York City, Philadelphia and Boston.

Thursday’s day-long steady snowfall, whipped around by gusty northeast winds, gripped Western New York in a frigid, white haze and created a tundra-like landscape. All of this bitterly cold weather, spawned by deep Arctic air rushing into the region, arrived on the heels of some heavy lake-effect snows around the Niagara Frontier on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

“It’s been at least three years since we’ve had a really good cold snap,” said Jim Mitchell, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Buffalo.

Mitchell explained the area hasn’t had a daytime high below 10 degrees since 2009.

That could end today when temperatures might not escape the single digits.

“That pretty much tells you how long it’s been since we’ve had weather this cold,” added Mitchell.

The wintry blast across the Northeast forced the cancellation of dozens of flights into and out of Buffalo Niagara International Airport Thursday and motorists slowly slip-sliding to their destinations with several winding up in minor fender-benders along the way. Pedestrians braved the elements by pulling their hoodies extra-tight around their heads as they scurried across wind-whipped, snow-covered sidewalks.

Snowblowers and shovels got yet another workout in a season that, since Thanksgiving week, has been filled with them.

School officials in districts already opened after the holidays were expected to wake early this morning to issue verdicts on class and activity cancellations.

As of late Thursday, at least one had already filtered in: Salamanca City Schools.

Snowfall totals from the storm were still piling up across the region. As of about 6 p.m. Thursday, a spotter in Perrysburg reported 11 inches of snow. There was 5.6 inches at the Buffalo airport in Cheektowaga. Some areas near Rochester – like Greece with 18 inches – reported much higher totals as the northeast winds created lake-enhanced snow in addition to the storm.

The snowfall is expected to begin tapering off today but the bitterly cold, single-digit temperatures will continue pouring in from the bowels of the Arctic region. Combined with a stiff wind from the northwest, wind chills are forecast to be as low as minus-20 degrees today. The National Weather Service had a wind chill advisory issued until noon today as the result.

The frigid temperatures also prompted cautionary statements to be issued from area and state officials.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a statewide “state of emergency” Thursday because of the storm. Several highways, including a portion of the Thruway from Albany to New York City, were ordered closed between midnight and 5 a.m. today.

“As this winter storm unfolds, bringing heavy snow and high winds to many parts of the state, I strongly urge all New Yorkers to exercise caution, avoid travel and stay indoors,” Cuomo said. “To ensure an effective and rapid response to this winter storm, I am declaring a statewide state of emergency, so resources can get to communities where they are needed as quickly as possible.”

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein advised the public “to take appropriate precautions” in the extreme cold.

“Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, whether indoors or outside, can cause serious or life-threatening health problems,” Burstein said.

Burstein advised the public to “stay indoors in you can” but said dressing in layers if you must venture outside.

The city of Buffalo announced there would be 10 warming centers opened across the city today “for any city resident seeking shelter from the cold weather.” Those centers are located at 1800 Clinton St., 2777 Bailey Ave., 307 Leroy Ave., 254 Virginia St., 62 Republic St., 337 Summer St., 960 Main St., 35 Cazenovia St., 161 Vermont St. and 585 William St.

Area highway crews worked Thursday and through the night to attempt to stay ahead of the storm. However, because of the extreme cold, many roadways remained snow-covered. The road conditions were blamed for numerous traffic mishaps on area roadways Thursday and commutes in both the morning and afternoon were slowed considerably.

There were more than a half-dozen accidents reported by the Thruway as of 8 p.m. Thursday, including a pair on the Niagara Thruway and five others on the mainline Thruway.

The Buffalo airport remained open throughout the day Thursday but dozens of flights into and out of Buffalo were affected by the storm impacting other airports, according to C. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

“Even though the runways at BNIA have been open ... we’ve had some cancellations of inbound and outbound flights,” Hartmayer said.

Flights into or out of places like Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, Boston, Newark, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., were affected, he said.

As the storm develops into an expected Nor’easter, the weather service had advisories posted from eastern Tennessee to Maine.

Mitchell said late Thursday that the “back edge of the snow” from the storm, which was beginning to pull moisture in off the Atlantic Ocean, reached as far west as the Cleveland area.

“It’s not a really heavy snow, but it’s the duration,” Mitchell explained.

Snowfall rates, as Buffalo Niagara residents know, can approach one to three inches per hour in localized persistent snow bands. In this storm, however, the snow was falling at a rate of about 0.3 inches per hour at the airport. But, sustained over hours and hours, those totals will start to add up.

In most areas, 10 to 14 inches of snow is forecast before the storm begins to wane in the Buffalo Niagara region with slightly less – 8 to 10 inches – expected in the Buffalo metro and northern suburbs and portions of the extreme Southern Tier, according to the weather service.

The region will remain in the ice box today before winds shift later tonight and become more southerly, according to forecasts.

That will help to moderate temperatures back close to normal – the 20s and near 30 degrees – for Saturday under sunny skies. Southwest winds, however, of 15 to 20 mph with gusts up to 30 might still make it feel chilly. Sunday, temperatures could reach the lower 30s.

The weekend will be a brief respite from the extreme cold and snow.

A reprise of Friday’s chilly weather could be in store early next week with a general snowfall late Sunday into Monday and then a potential for lake-effect snow in southern Erie and Wyoming counties and the Southern Tier between Monday night and Wednesday.

“The pattern that’s locking in next week looks like it will be in for a while,” said Mitchell. “It’s January.”

Coping with the cold

In severe cold weather and as wind speeds increase, heat can leave your body more rapidly. Here’s some advice:

• Remain indoors and make any trips outside as brief as possible.

• Wear an outer layer of clothing that’s tightly woven, preferably of wind-resistant fabric.

• Use inner layers of clothing consisting of wool, silk, or polypropylene that hold in more body heat than cotton.

• Stay dry since wet clothing chills the body rapidly.

• Working slowly if doing heavy outdoor chores.

• Remove extra layers of clothing when it gets too warm because excess perspiration will increase heat loss.

• Don’t ignore shivering – it is a first sign that the body is losing heat. Uncontrollable shivering can be an indicator of hypothermia.

• Be aware that frostbite “is a severe reaction to cold exposure that can cause permanent damage.” Symptoms include a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, ears and nose. If frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, slowly warm the victim and seek immediate medical attention.

• Don’t leave pets outdoors or in an unheated vehicle for any length of time.

• Realize that cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. Those with heart disease or high blood pressure should follow their doctor’s advice about shoveling snow or performing any strenuous work in the cold.

Source: Erie County Health Department

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com