Residents of Buffalo are no strangers to a little snowfall in mid-November — but thundersnow? Yikes. The city is bracing for one of the biggest lake-effect snowstorms in years this week, just in time for the Bills’ Week 11 home tilt against the Browns.
We all remember the epic “Snovertime” game of 2017, but conditions for this Sunday are shaping up to be downright concerning.
What does that mean for the matchup and how are the teams preparing? Well, if you live in Buffalo and have a shovel, you could make a few bucks. Here’s everything we know:
Weather forecast around Buffalo
The National Weather Service office in Buffalo issued a warning Wednesday that a prolonged lake-effect snow event, likely including “paralyzing snowfall for the Buffalo and Watertown areas,” is expected this week and through the weekend. It added that a “crippling” lake-effect snowstorm remains possible Thursday night through Sunday night. The warning included Orchard Park, NY, where the Bills play, which sits just off the eastern tip of Lake Erie.
According to the NWS, lake-effect snow occurs when air that is significantly colder than the surface of the Great Lakes moves over land, where it rises in elevation and forms moisture-laden clouds. There, snow bands form and dump the heavy, wintry precipitation.
This most typically occurs in late fall and early winter as temperatures begin to plummet.
A long duration lake effect snow event will continue through the weekend. To start, let’s look at tonight and tomorrow only. Lake effect snow will fall to the east and southeast of the Great Lakes starting this evening and continuing through tomorrow. #nywx pic.twitter.com/zh6SWzpvUv
— NWS Buffalo (@NWSBUFFALO) November 16, 2022
How much snow is expected?
Buffalo and suburbs south of it could receive as much as three to six feet of snow by Sunday, AccuWeather meteorologists said. Thursday night into Friday and Saturday into Saturday night are expected to see the heaviest snowfall. Travel is strongly discouraged “during the height of the event” and could be “difficult to nearly impossible,” AccuWeather said. November lake-effect snow events can completely shut down highways and could potentially leave fans – or members of the teams – stranded.
The snowfall is expected to rival that of previous historic lake-effect snow events. Buffalo’s largest single-day snowfall in November came on Nov. 20, 2000, which saw 24.9 inches. November 2014 also saw one of “the most significant winter events in Buffalo’s snowy history,” per the NWS, when over five feet of snow fell in areas just east of Buffalo; just north of Buffalo only got inches in that instance.
“All the top 10 snowfall events for Buffalo have occurred in November and December,” AccuWeather meteorologist Matt Benz said. “This is due to the fact that Lake Erie is still quite warm with no ice cover this time of the year. The lake can contribute more moisture when cold air moves overhead, helping to produce more intense bands of lake-effect snow.”
Another meteorologist told The New York Times that it is very rare for forecasters to use words like “crippling” and “paralyzing.” “We usually don’t pull these terms out except for historic events,” Buffalo Weather Service meteorologist Liz Jurkowski said.
Jurkowski added that the region could see “thundersnow,” an ominous-sounding weather phenomenon that entails a thunderstorm with mostly snow falling rather than rain.
The following graphics show that the area around the Bills’ Highmark Stadium is expected to get extreme impacts through at least Saturday morning and caution that “extensive and widespread closures and disruptions to infrastructure may occur.”
Where the lake effect is the most intense and persistent, snow will be measured in feet, not inches. Travel within these bands will be extremely dangerous, if not impossible. This will especially be the case across the Buffalo Metro Friday and Friday night. pic.twitter.com/49mLsqLX6T
— NWS Buffalo (@NWSBUFFALO) November 16, 2022
What does it mean for the Browns?
Zac Jackson, Browns writer: Coach Kevin Stefanski said Wednesday that he’s focused on preparing the team and wasn’t sure if the team had developed any real contingency plans. But with AccuWeather calling the storm “potentially historic,” the Browns will be tracking the weather and communicating with the league if necessary.
In normal conditions, the team flight from Cleveland to Buffalo would only be about 30 minutes and the team’s equipment truck would have pretty much a straight shot up Interstate 90, a trip that would cover about 200 miles. But I-90 runs parallel to Lake Erie, and if the forecast of 3-6 feet of lake effect snow is even close to right, there are potential complications.
The Browns are scheduled to fly Saturday afternoon. The equipment truck would leave earlier in the day, but that could potentially be pushed up as much as a full day as the Browns finish their regular practice week early Friday afternoon.
For now, the Browns aren’t planning to alter their itinerary, although Stefanski said he believed the players would have no problem if the team had to travel to Buffalo earlier – or perhaps even wait until Sunday morning. The NFL and the Bills will monitor the weather, but delaying the game isn’t really an option as the Bills play next Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, in Detroit. The Browns will wait on an updated forecast, and in the meantime, most of Stefanski’s worries will center around the ability of the Browns’ leaky defense to stop Josh Allen and the Bills.
How are the Bills responding?
Joe Buscaglia, Bills writer: The Bills are keeping a close eye on the incoming snowstorm and said Wednesday they have been in constant contact with the league offices. In terms of their own preparation, it’s business as usual for the first two days of the practice week. Still, with the storm projected to begin on Thursday night, coach Sean McDermott said they have several contingencies in place in case they have to pivot and can’t get into the building on Friday, Saturday or both. They also usually stay in downtown Buffalo, about a 15-minute drive from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, the night before their home games. They also have potential plans for a hotel closer to the stadium if travel to the city Saturday night is untenable.
The team said it provided young players and those in Buffalo with snow-clearing tools for their vehicles for the first time this year. Past instances of big snowstorms had members of the organization going to pick up stranded players to get them to the facilities for practice. They have also often offered hourly wages to any member of the public to come in and help shovel out the stands in Highmark Stadium in the past.
Is there a precedent to move the game?
Buscaglia: McDermott and the Bills know all about big snowstorms. McDermott’s first year in 2017 featured a Bills and Colts matchup in Orchard Park that was an all-time classic. Fans could not see the other half of the stadium from one end due to the blowing winds and snow already on the ground.
In 2014, before McDermott’s time, a snowstorm hit the Orchard Park area so hard that the NFL moved the Bills game against the Jets to Detroit on a Tuesday night. The Bills have had plenty of practice dealing with these conditions as an organization.
Is there a betting impact?
Andrew DeWitt, sports betting senior editor: The total for Bills vs. Browns opened at 47 points on BetMGM Sunday night. Mostly sharp bettors helped shape the lines early in the week, and the total dropped from 47 to 45.5 by Tuesday morning, and then it dropped another two points to 43 by Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday morning, the line moved to 41.5 points where it sits right now.
The Bills were 10-point favorites on Monday morning, but they are now only eight-point favorites because the spread is correlated with the total. If fewer points are going to be scored because bettors expect the snowstorm to affect the game, then it will be harder for the Bills to cover the spread.
“Thundersnow” is possible in Buffalo with forecasts calling for snow totals of 3-to-6 feet by Sunday.
Bills-Browns total has moved from 47 to 41.5.
92% of bets are on the UNDER at @BetMGM
— John Ewing 🦁 (@johnewing) November 17, 2022
One thing to watch out for is if the storm stops by Sunday morning, we could see the spread and totals rise again, as the weather may not impact this game as much as people think it might. Some forecasts show the snow will stop by 10 am ET in Orchard Park. However, the forecast still calls for wind gusts above 30 mph which will cause problems for both teams even if there isn’t a blizzard during the game.
(Top photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)