Session 3A.6 Lake Effect Snow Storm Over Buffalo, NY October 12-13, 2006

Tuesday, 26 June 2007: 3:15 PM
Summit A (The Yarrow Resort Hotel and Conference Center)
Robert S. Hamilton, NOAA/NWSFO, Cheektowaga, NY; and D. Zaff and T. Niziol

Presentation PDF (1.2 MB)

On October 12th -13th 2006, an intense, localized, early season snow storm hit Buffalo, New York and its immediate suburbs. The narrow band of heavy, wet snow developed off the warm waters of Lake Erie, dumping as much as 2 feet of snow in a little over a 12-hour period. The aerial extent of the snowfall was on a very small scale, covering a width of no more than 25 miles and a length of approximately 40 miles. However, that narrow swath covered the most heavily populated metropolitan area of upstate New York with over 1,000,000 people directly impacted by the storm.

Although the snowfall itself resulted in some significant travel problems for the public, the overwhelming impacts from this storm were widespread power outages resulting from the catastrophic tree damage, as the heavy snow fell on fully leafed trees. Interestingly storm reports indicate that the vast majority of the damage occurred after only 4 to 6 inches of snowfall. In the end, upwards of 400,000 customers were without power, some for as much as two weeks after the storm. To compound problems, milder temperatures right after the storm led to a rapid meltdown of the snow. While nearly 3 inches of water swelled area streams, the water stayed within its banks. However, the combination of runoff and no electricity to power sump pumps flooded thousands of basements.

As a result of the storm, four counties in Western New York, Niagara, Erie, Orleans and Genesee, were listed under a major disaster declaration by President Bush. Damage estimates from late December 2006 were in the $150,000,000 to $200,000,000 range.

From a meteorological perspective, one of the more surprising aspects of the storm was the early and rapid changeover from rain to snow occurring during the afternoon on October 12th. Some possible causes for this changeover include the latent heat of melting, the transport of cold air to the surface via convective processes, and also evaporational cooling brought about by the influx of very dry surface air into the strong convergent band.

While the debate over the actual meteorology behind the catastrophic snowfall may continue for some time, there is little doubt that the rarity of the event played a significant role in how it was forecast. Pattern recognition of the early season lake effect event was evident by the staff a week prior to the occurrence, but the local climate history for Buffalo did not account for any prior events of this magnitude in at least 75 years. A few October cases have since been noted in areas just south of Buffalo.

This presentation will look further into the meteorology behind the catastrophic event as well as the climatic history.

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