New York Governor Kathy Hochul has declared a state of emergency after Buffalo was hit by a unique “thundersnow” blizzard which has buried the city under several inches of the white stuff.
Train stations have closed, flights and classes have been cancelled, and a driving ban has been issued in preparation for the extreme weather event, which started on Thursday evening and is expected to cause chaos into the weekend.
The worst snowfall is expected in Buffalo, with periods of near-zero visibility, but large parts of upstate New York and Canada will also be affected.
The blizzard will continue throughout the weekend, with heavy snowfall on Friday evening, and more falling on Saturday and Sunday.
Other areas could be hit with around a foot of the lake-effect snow, which is caused by frigid air picking up copious amounts of moisture from the warmer lakes.
It’s believed air coming off Lake Erie – which hovers around 52 degrees – collided with cold blizzard clouds and created electrical charges which burst into lightning and thunder.
Geoff Bansen, a meteorologist for Fox News, told The New York Post: “When that happens, you get a lot of converging air at the surface and a lot of rising air in very narrow bands that cause very localized amounts of snow to kind of just dump out.
“You don’t typically see a lot of light snow with events of this magnitude; most of the snow is moderate to heavy, and it’s just a matter of where those moderate bands set up”.
As the snow started falling Thursday evening, residents in the western New York region began posting videos online.
The clips show a sheet of white powder covering the ground, while snow pours from the sky illuminated by flashes of lightning.
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Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency in preparation for the storm, which she categorised as “life-threatening”.
During a press briefing on Thursday, she said: “I want western New Yorkers to take this seriously.
“What we are talking about is a major, major storm. This is considered an extreme weather event. That means it is dangerous.”
Hochul’s state of emergency covers 11 counties.
The National Weather Service also warned of accumulations of two feet or more of snow in northern New York on the eastern edge of Lake Ontario, and in parts of northern Michigan through Sunday.
As a result of the extreme weather, commercial truck traffic has been banned from a stretch of Interstate 90 after 4 pm on Thursday.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz issued a driving ban which began at 9pm on Thursday, shortly after the heavy snow moved into Buffalo, quickly covering the ground and roads.
Classes have been called off for students in Buffalo and throughout the county, while some train stations closed on Thursday and remain closed throughout today.
Numerous flights in and out of Buffalo Niagara International Airport have also been cancelled, The Buffalo News reported.