Trying to figure out why the Buffalo area has seen as much snow as they have, we need to remember the root causes of lake effect snow. Essentially, you need three factors to come together to foster the development of heavy snow off the lakes.
1) Above freezing lake temperatures.
2) Below freezing temperatures aloft
3) A deep fetch.
The cold weather came strong and fast to the eastern two thirds of the country, so fast that the eastern Lakes are still seeing water temperatures all the way up in the 50s. The cold air is unseasonable, in some cases up to 30 degrees below normal. This provides a nearly perfect environment for moisture to be lifted from the Lakes and into the atmosphere. Now, all we needed was the perfect flow pattern to transport the rapidly cooling moist air inland, for it to fall out as mountains of snow.
This is the current wind stream analysis, provided by windmapper.com. Even now, most of the flow into Buffalo is coming off of Lake Erie, though even now, it’s significantly lighter than it was earlier this week. A strong area of low pressure sitting off the Labrador Coast encouraged a strong flow almost along the entire length of the Lake, completely unwavering for a couple of days, even after the associated cold front (the same one that brought thunderstorms to the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida) was well off shore.
It was a perfect storm, really, in Buffalo. There is supposed to be a warm up this weekend, but it will be tough with all that snow on the ground. In stead, they may just have to settle for some southerly flow to cut off the lake effect machine for a while.