Prolonged lake-effect snow event to bury eastern Great Lakes with feet of snow this week

As the worst Arctic outbreak in many years slams the midwestern and northeastern United States with dangerously cold air, a prolonged lake-effect snow event will take shape downwind of the Great Lakes this week.

With the lack of cold air so far this winter, a large portion of the Great Lakes remains unfrozen, opening the door for lake-effect snow as the icy air pours in this week.

"The very cold air temperatures pouring over the warmer waters of the Great Lakes will cause narrow but intense lake-effect snow bands to develop downwind of the lakes beginning on Tuesday and continuing into Friday," AccuWeather Meteorologist Courtney Travis said.

The heaviest snow in Buffalo, New York, will fall from later Tuesday into Wednesday morning, during which time the wind direction will be favorable for the band to set up right over the city.

It is during this time that 1-2 feet of snow may pile up in the city, bringing major travel delays on Interstate 90 and secondary roadways.

Later on Wednesday, the heaviest band of snow should shift just south of Buffalo, hammering the southern suburbs with snowfall rates of 3 to 5 inches per hour.

Another intense band of snow will develop downwind of Lake Ontario on Tuesday night and take on a west-to-east orientation later on Wednesday.

Once the Erie and Ontario bands shift farther south on Wednesday, they may only oscillate a couple of miles into Thursday night and Friday.

Related: Winter storms and weather across the United States — January 2019

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Winter storms and weather across the United States 2019
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Winter storms and weather across the United States 2019
James Spanos pushes a cart of his belongings on a snow-covered street during a winter storm, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Portland, Maine. Scarves, hoods and gloves were necessary for New England residents venturing outdoors as the region endures a storm that can dump up to 18 inches of snow. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Horses stand over a major winter storm which dropped around 8 inches of snow in Taos, New Mexico, U.S., January 11, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Hay
Caleb Seely rides a unicycle on a snow covered sidewalk as he heads home after helping shovel out his brother's driveway during a winter storm, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Portland, Maine. The extra knobby tire on Seely's ride provided traction on a day when snow, sleet and freezing rain kept most motorists indoors. Parts of New England residents are bracing for up to 18 inches of snow. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Traffic moved through the town center after a major winter storm dropped around 8 inches of snow in Taos, New Mexico, U.S., January 11, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Hay
Don Locke, of Pottsville, Pa., clears snow and ice from his car along 12th Street in Pottsville, Pa., on Sunday, January 20, 2019. (Andy Matsko/The Republican-Herald via AP)
A couple takes photos at the frozen fountain in Bryant Park January 11, 2019 in New York. New York City was hit with bitter temperatures and high winds. - The low for Friday was 22 Farenheit (-5.5 Celsius) (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP) (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Motorists try to fix their windshield wipers during a winter storm, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Portland, Maine. Snow, sleet and freezing rain is making travel hazardous throughout much of New England. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
People take photos of the frozen fountain in Bryant Park on January 11, 2019 in New York. New York City was hit with bitter temperatures and high winds. - The low for Friday was 22 Farenheit (-5.5 Celsius) (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP) (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Crews clear snow at the Albany International Airport in Colonie, N.Y., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. A major winter storm that blanketed much of the Midwest with snow earlier in the weekend is barreling toward New England, where it is expected to wreak transportation havoc from slick and clogged roads to hundreds of canceled airline flights. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
Birds play in the frozen fountain in Bryant Park January 11, 2019 in New York. New York City was hit with bitter temperatures and high winds. The low for Friday was 22 Farenheit (-5.5 Celsius) (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP) (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Lakewood CO - JANUARY 11: Meredith Mills pushes shopping carts back into King Soppers on January 11, 2019 in Lakewood, Colorado. Snow continues to fall in the metro area. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
SILVER SPRING, MD - JAN 9: Emmi Horne, 8, tries to catch snowflakes on her toungue as she walks through downtown Silver Spring, Maryland during a brief snow squall with her mom, Terry Horne, right. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 8: A pedestrian passes through a light dusting of snow on a Columbia Road sidewalk in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston on Jan. 8, 2019. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Waves from the East River are seen in front of the Brooklyn Bridge and the skyline of Manhattan in New York on January 7, 2019. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
Keith Morris, of the City of Owensboro's Street Department, takes off a hose after loading 1,000 gallons of salt brine into a tank on a truck, Friday afternoon, Jan. 11, 2019, so it can be spread on city roads in Owensboro, Ky. The National Weather Service had issued a winter weather advisory on Friday of accumulating snow moving into the area Friday evening into early Saturday. (Alan Warren/The Messenger-Inquirer via AP)
Traffic moves along I-70 near Lawrence, Kan., Friday, Jan. 11, 2019 ahead of an expected snow storm. The area is under a Winter Weather Advisory. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
A plow treats Douglas County Road 438 near Lawrence, Kan., Friday, Jan. 11, 2019 ahead of an expected snow storm. The area is under a Winter Weather Advisory. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
A pedestrian walks across the street in downtown Scranton, Pa., on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. A major winter storm brought some of the coldest temperatures of the season and covered a large swath of the country in snow as it wreaked havoc on air travel and caused slick road conditions throughout New England Sunday. (Butch Comegys/The Times-Tribune via AP)
Marvin Hooks wears a face mask to protect him from the cold as he walks on North Street in Pittsfield, Mass., Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. Bitter cold and gusty winds swept across the eastern U.S. Monday with falling temperatures replacing the weekend's falling snow. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)
A runner moves through West Park on the Northside of Pittsburgh on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. A major winter storm brought some of the coldest temperatures of the season and covered a large swath of the country in snow as it wreaked havoc on air travel and caused slick road conditions throughout New England Sunday. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Dan Cappella, of Pottsville, Pa., clears snow away on Howard Avenue in Pottsville, Pa., on Sunday, January 20, 2019. (Andy Matsko/The Republican-Herald via AP)
Ben Jennings snowblows his driveway on Sunday, Jan. 20, in Glenville, N.Y., where 16 inches of snow fell from Saturday evening through noon Sunday. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)
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Because these two bands will inundate the same areas with blinding whiteouts and very high snowfall rates for 36-48 hours, people may end up measuring the snow in yards instead of inches or feet.

While Syracuse may only receive a few inches of snow from the lake-effect event, Watertown and Sandy Creek, New York, will likely receive between 3 and 6 feet of snow.

Up to 4 feet of snow may fall just 5 to 10 miles south of Buffalo, with up to 2 feet of snow possible just to the northeast of Erie, Pennsylvania.

In addition to the Erie and Ontario snow bands, some locations downwind of lakes Michigan and Superior can also receive several feet of snow. The heaviest snow in the western Great Lakes will fall between Tuesday and Thursday before the wind shifts direction on Friday.

Download the free AccuWeather app to find out how much snow is expected in your community this week.

Residents living in areas expected to be targeted by feet of snow should prepare now and have both a backup generator and emergency preparedness kit on hand to avoid becoming stuck without supplies in case of power outages.

With the extreme cold and biting winds set to accompany the snow, a dangerous and life-threatening situation can develop quickly in the cases of a power outage or becoming stranded outdoors in the snow.

Frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes when temperatures dip to 10 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, and anybody heading outdoors to shovel the snow should make sure to wear plenty of layers and take frequent breaks.

"In addition, ice jams can form along area rivers with the rapid freeze-up this week, raising the risk of flooding in nearby communities," Travis added.

Motorists traveling through western New York on I-81 and 90, as well as across western Michigan on I-94, should be prepared for roadway visibility to drop from miles to feet within a matter of seconds.

Whiteouts, as well as blowing and drifting snow resulting from the gusty winds, threaten to force road closures and make travel nearly impossible and extremely dangerous at times this week.

Anybody without four-wheel drive may be unable to pass through the deep snow, and even those with it may face spots that are simply impassible.

By Friday, an area of high pressure should build into the mid-Atlantic states and cause the strong, persistent winds to lighten and shift direction, bringing the lake-effect event to an end.

Fortunately, a brief surge of abnormally mild air may quickly surge into parts of the Northeast this weekend, helping to melt some of the snow and providing an ideal setting for cleanup efforts.

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