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A historic storm is brewing in western New York state

A historic storm is brewing in western New York state

(CNN) — The Heavy snow Thursday Devastation in western New York state will continue into Friday, with the worst storm in history bringing downed trees and causing property damage.

“Snowfall will create near-zero visibility, make travel difficult or impossible, damage infrastructure, and cripple hard-hit communities,” the National Weather Service said Thursday. “Very cold air will accompany this event, with temperatures around 20 degrees below the normal forecast over the weekend.”

The weather service warned that areas east of the lake and Lake Ontario could see more than 3 inches of snow per hour, along with occasional lightning and gusty winds.

Firefighters in Snyder, New York, after responding to a car crash on I-290 on Thursday.

“Snowfall of that intensity creates a danger of reduced visibility on the roads,” New York Gov. Cathy Hochul declared a state of emergency for 11 counties on Thursday.

“When it drops at that rate, it’s almost impossible to clear a path for it to travel safely,” Hochul said. “It will not be safe for motorists to return to the roads for a considerable time.”

As of Thursday afternoon, commercial traffic has been blocked on New York State Highway (Interstate 90) for about 130 miles (210 kilometers) in the Rochester and Buffalo area to the Pennsylvania border, Hochul’s office said. Additionally, other sections of major interstate highways, including the 90, 290 and 990, are also closed.

Urging residents to be careful this weekend, Hochul described the storm as a “big, big” snowfall, as dangerous as the November 2014 blizzard that killed 20 people in the Buffalo area.

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Additionally, officials in New York’s Erie County, which includes Buffalo, have declared a state of emergency and a driving ban effective Thursday night.

“Lake effect snow (from the storm) is very heavy and can cause downed tree limbs and damage to vehicles, property or power lines. Watch where you park and be aware of your surroundings if you go out,” Erie County officials wrote online.

Heavy snow from the storm is expected to hit the Buffalo, New York area, where more than 4 feet (120 centimeters) of snow accumulated, marking a historic forecast not seen in more than 20 years. According to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller, the city’s highest three-day snowfall was 142.5 centimeters, which occurred in December 2001.

And given the rapid rate of snowfall, a buffalo can see a month’s worth of snow in a matter of hours. That could make the month the snowiest November since 2000, when a total of 115.8 centimeters fell in the city for the entire month, Miller added.

Residents of Williamstown in Oswego County, near Lake Ontario, saw 24 inches of snow as of Thursday night, the weather service said.

In neighboring Oneida County, as of Thursday night, some areas had received 14 inches of snow in the past 24 hours, the weather service said.

What to expect this weekend

Friday alone could bring 2 feet (60 centimeters) of snow, Miller said, making it one of Buffalo’s three snowiest days.

“Heavy lake-effect snow from Lake Erie with snowfall rates of 2-3” will cause very difficult travel tonight in the Buffalo metropolitan area east of Batavia and across Lake Ontario into Oswego County, the National Weather Service in Buffalo said late Thursday.

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Lake-effect snow occurs when very cold, windy conditions develop over a relatively warm lake, meaning the lake might be 40 degrees when the wind is zero, Miller explained. The temperature shock creates instability, which allows more extreme winter weather to occur.

Sunday’s NFL game between the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns at New York’s Orchard Park has been moved to Detroit due to a weather emergency, the league announced Thursday.

About 6 million people in five Great Lakes states from Wisconsin to New York are under snow warnings Thursday, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennon said. According to the National Weather Service, lake effect snow will continue in downwind areas of the Great Lakes through Sunday.

Other areas affected by the storm include parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and western Lower Peninsula, where strong winds and heavy snow will cause near-zero visibility and unsafe travel conditions.

CNN’s Jacob Lev contributed to this report.