Buffalo Has the Right Snow to Ward Off Post-Storm Floods

In the next few days, the wetness of the snow that fell on Buffalo might be more important than how much there was of it.

The water in snow, it turns out, means more than whether children can build a snowman, or a tunnel, on the front lawn. It’s key in determining if there could be a flood to follow this week’s atmospheric avalanche on western New York.

Mild air is heading to the U.S. Northeast, and temperatures in the Buffalo area, where more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) of snow has fallen, are forecast to reach 57 degrees Fahrenheit (14 Celsius) by early next week, the National Weather Service said. Readings will climb into the 60s and 70s in Boston, New York and Washington.

“It’s almost going to be a change of season on the East Coast,” said Bruce Terry, a meteorologist at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

While people along the East Coast will welcome the milder temperatures as a chance to shed heavy coats for a few days, those in western New York with snow piled over their heads may fear torrents of water turning their neighborhoods into swamps.

Well, there is some good news.

The current thinking is that there won’t be widespread flooding because the snow that dropped this week is relatively dry, said Bill Saunders, senior hydrologist at the weather service’s Northeast River Forecast Center in Taunton, Massachusetts.

‘Very Dry’

“It’s drier than average and that’s in our favor,” Saunders said. “While there are huge, prodigious amounts of snow, it’s really a very dry snow.”

The estimate is that it contains only about 2 to 5 inches of water, he said.

When the temperatures and the amount of water in the snow are put in the center’s forecast models, the result shows that rivers and streams in western New York should stay within their banks.

Streets may be another matter, Saunders said.

Storm drains will be clogged by snow.

“We expect localized street flooding,” Saunders said. “In terms of river flooding, we are not seeing this upcoming warm-up resulting in a significant river flooding event.”

Survey Flight

The weather service may send out a survey plane this weekend to get a better measurement of how much water is in the snow, said Carrie Olheiser of the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

The sensing center tracks snow across the U.S. and will send out reconnaissance flights when necessary. As of yesterday, 33.4 percent of the contiguous 48 states was covered by snow, down from 50.4 percent earlier this week.

The snow itself will also work in Buffalo’s favor as temperatures rise by keeping the air colder, said Patrick Burke, a meteorologist at the Weather Prediction Center.

On the downside, rain is forecast, and that will help melt some of the snowpack, he said.

“I wouldn’t expect it all to melt by Monday,” Burke said.

The rain will also, of course, bring more water.

The warm-up will be brief. A cold front will be moving through by the middle of next week.

While western New York may be spared a flood, it may also have snow hanging around for Thanksgiving holiday and beyond.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE