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Today’s weather will be balmy by January standards, but winter at its worst is looming just over the horizon for Monday, said Jeff Wood of the National Weather Service in Buffalo.

By Monday night, temperatures below zero and wind chills of minus 40 or worse, combined with heavy lake-effect snowfall, will make driving or even walking a hazardous activity, with whiteouts and poor visibility the norm in the snow bands.

It’s not yet clear exactly where the heaviest lake snows will strike. Wood said a lake-effect snow watch has been posted for Monday morning through late Tuesday night for Erie, Genesee, Wyoming, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.

Everyone in the area will face the brutal wind chills, courtesy of the coldest air mass to come through Western New York in several years. A wind chill watch has been posted for the entire region from Monday afternoon until Wednesday morning.

A calm, cloudy day with temperatures above freezing is on tap today. The action is expected to start as rain for a while this evening, but after the powerful cold front hits, Wood said, “We’ll see a pretty rapid changeover to snow. We won’t see significant amounts, but it will get very cold, very fast.”

The inch or so of snow expected tonight could come along with a flash freeze of wet roads, creating black ice, Wood said.

That is to be followed by a lake-effect blast beginning sometime during the day Monday with winds shifting to the west-southwest, blowing right down the full length of Lake Erie, which still has a considerable amount of open water, Wood said.

Temperatures, expected to be about 20 degrees at dawn Monday, will drop all day and fall below zero by Monday night, with winds at 40 to 50 mph, meaning wind chills of minus 40 or worse, while lake-effect snow pelts down. Monday night and Tuesday morning are expected to see the worst conditions, Wood said.

“Monday night, we really could see a significant amount of snow, maybe a foot or so,” Wood said. “It’s going to be a significant lake-effect event for somebody.”

Wood said the coldest air is expected in the Southern Tier, with the Buffalo metro area slightly less frigid. Temperatures on Cattaraugus County hilltops could plunge to minus 20 Monday night, the Weather Service predicted.

Meanwhile, Niagara and Orleans counties are expected to be spared most of the snow, although not the cold and wind. Their Monday forecast, uniquely among Western New York counties, includes the phrase “partly sunny.”

Tuesday’s highs are expected to be in the single digits, but Wednesday’s temperatures could approach 20 degrees and rise above that mark Thursday and Friday. However, snow is part of the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday.

Wood said the long-term forecast for next week shows the potential for a January thaw.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com