CAPITAL REGION -- Quick-moving wintry weather that arrived with little warning made for a treacherous commute Wednesday morning, and the next round of messy weather is due around the time of Thursday evening's commute.
Widespread accumulations of 4 to 6 inches are likely between Thursday afternoon and midday Friday, the National Weather Service predicted. Late Wednesday afternoon, the weather service issued a storm watch for a 24-hour period starting Thursday afternoon, with snow, ice and sleet predicted.
On Wednesday, pre-dawn snow squalls caused multiple accidents and traffic slowdowns, as early-winter weather events often do. Many school districts across the region operated with two-hour delays, as buses were slowed by the weather, or themselves caught in traffic.
In southern Saratoga County, the Northway was backed up to Exit 9, and Route 146 was backed up from Exit 9 all the way to Balltown Road in Niskayuna. Accidents on the Northway southbound toward the Twin Bridges reduced traffic to a crawl at about 7 a.m., with the trip from Malta to the Twin Bridges taking up to an hour.
The state Department of Transportation acknowledged rapidly changing circumstances led to slick roads before state crews had a chance to respond with salt or other road treatments -- and slick conditions were the same across the central Capital Region, so alternative roads were just as hazardous as major arteries.
"It was a challenge this morning, no doubt about it," said DOT Region One spokesman Bryan Viggiani. "We got the reports at 4:30 a.m., and we jumped into action as quickly as we could, but then immediately came the morning commute."
The problem Wednesday morning was lake-effect squalls that came at a bad time and with little warning.
"We issued a warning for snow squall potential, the first of the season," said National Weather Service meteorologist Christina Speciale. "The snow was arriving in the early morning hours, melting on the road surfaces and then refreezing. It was really bad timing because it was right before sunrise, and then the morning commute was happening."
A squall typically is heavy snow that only lasts a few minutes, so accumulations are minimal.
"With something like this, we're hopping in the truck and treating as the squall comes down," Viggiani said.
Now, DOT is readying -- and the region is bracing -- for a traditional widespread accumulating snowstorm overnight Thursday into Friday morning. Snow should begin Thursday afternoon.
"We will have a round of snow at the beginning, then overnight some mixing [with rain] and then another period of snow for Friday morning," Speciale said. "Depending on where you are, it could impact the Thursday evening commute and maybe then also Friday morning."
Another National Weather Service meteorologist, Evan Heller, said mid-November is about the right time for the winter's first accumulating snowfall.
"Three-quarters of the time we have accumulating snow before Thanksgiving," he said.
The DOT and the state Thruway Authority, meanwhile, issued a statewide advisory reminding drivers to be aware of and respectful of snowplows.
“Snowplows are huge, heavy vehicles with wide blind spots, making it imperative that motorists ‘Don’t Crowd the Plow’ by giving them space and not darting around or in front of them," said DOT acting Commissioner Paul A. Karas, in a prepared statement. " Our practices are not intended to slow motorists down, but to maximize safety. We ask motorists to drive with patience and an abundance of caution during winter weather events.”
Viggiani said motorists in general need to remember to slow down in snowy weather, even if there's only traces of snow or ice.
"Plan to leave for work early or to be late for work," he said. "Stay off the phone, and leave room for good reaction times."
With the certainty of more snow on the way, some communities are issuing reminders to the public about winter rules, which all residents who aren't snowbirds will need to know for the next few months.
On Facebook, the city of Gloversville reminded residents that overnight on-street parking is banned from Nov. 30 to March 31, that commercial snowplow operators require a city permit, and that shoveling or plowing snow into the street is prohibited.
Other towns, villages and cities have their own rules that vary by community.