BY JOHN J. HOPKINS
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Winter’s first major snowfall was expected to taper off into flurries this morning, but not until after drivers throughout Niagara County had a tricky morning commute.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service expected the storm to blanket the county with a dumping of between 6-10 inches of the white stuff, with most of the accumulation expected to have taken place overnight.
“The worst is going to be overnight,” Jon Hitchcock, a meteorologist with the Buffalo office of the weather service, said Wednesday afternoon. “The bulk will fall between about 7 p.m. and 4 a.m. By daybreak, the worst will be over.”
A winter storm warning was expected to remain in effect until 1 p.m. today.
Unlike lake effect storms that typically target areas south of Buffalo, this storm is part of a general weather system and was expected to affect all of Western New York.
According to the weather service, heavy snow was expected to spread northward with snowfall increasing rapidly from south to north, with snowfall rates exceeding one inch per hour.
Increasing winds of 15-25 miles per hour with gusts up to 35 mph were expected along the Lake Ontario and Lake Erie shorelines. The combination of heavy snow and strong winds were expected to create very low visibilities overnight.
Residents throughout the region were advised not to travel unless it was absolutely necessary.
The storm was also expected to drop on the region the largest snowfall total in more than a year. The last time the Buffalo office recorded more than half a foot of snow in one day was in March 2011, and there hasn’t been a double-digit snowfall since December 2008.
Local highway crews were ready for the first big snow in more than a year.
City of Lockport Director of Engineering and Public Works Norman D. Allen said all 17 pieces of equipment were ready to move out.
“Once the streets get a little slippery we’ll start salting the hills and main road and then start plowing,” Allen said.
Niagara County Highway Operations Supervisor Randy Retzlaff said Wednesday that his crews were also ready to roll, adding that earlier snowfalls this month gave highway workers an opportunity to get back in the swing of things.
Retzlaff said there are eight active plow routes in the county and spare vehicles are ready to be used if needed.
“It’s a matter of getting the excess snow off the roads first,” Retzlaff said. “Then we’ll salt to cut it (down to the pavement. As soon as it starts to fall, we’ll call the crews in.”
Both Retzlaff and Allen said their crews seem to favor nighttime snow plowing.
“During the day you have parked cars and traffic to deal with,” Allen said.
County crews, meanwhile, have a different take.
“The guys feel they can see better with the lights,” Retzlaff said. “No matter when it falls, they’ll do what it takes to get the roads cleared.”
In Lockport, Friday’s forecast calls for a chance of flurries and freezing drizzle before 10 a.m., then a chance of flurries until 1 p.m. The temperature is projected to be 28 degrees.The Associated Press contributed to this story.