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Snow squall warning blankets local cellphones with alerts

Max Schulte
Linda Shaw runs last-minute errands in Rochester as snow begins to fall on Tuesday afternoon.

Your cellphone may have given you a bit of a surprise with a special weather alert early Tuesday afternoon when the National Weather Service issued a snow squall warning.

Heavy snow certainly is not something that is unusual in the winter in western New York. But David Thomas, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Buffalo,  says that over the last year or so, the weather service has decided to start issuing these snow squall warnings.

He says that's because of the multi-vehicle pileups that have sometimes occurred when snow squalls brought visibility to as low as a quarter-mile or so.

“One of the thoughts behind this is to alert the users that there is this band of snow that will be making for very difficult driving conditions for just a brief period of time, usually just under an hour,” Thomas says.

Thomas says it’s not even the amount of snow, but that quick burst of snow in combination with gusty winds, that can make driving treacherous.

And he says the fact that we already have lake effect snow in this region can sometimes add to the snow squall potential.

“Once the bands of snow tend to move a little bit quicker and detach from the lakes across the Genesee Valley-Finger Lakes area, that’s when we typically will start to issue the snow squall warnings for areas that are under heavy lake effect snow, but just might get an inch of snow with a very quick passing band of snow that crosses the area,” Thomas says.

A similar snow squall warning surprised a number of people in the New York City area on Dec. 18.

The forecast calls for some snow showers on New Year's Eve, then just clouds, with a low of 30 and breezy conditions. New Year's Day will see clouds with a high in the mid-30s.