The date was January 15, 1994. The Bills were coming off a 12-4 season atop the AFC East standings, set to take on the Los Angeles Raiders in the divisional playoff game. The game (outcome aside) has lived in local infamy as the coldest Bills game in Orchard Park. The temperature on January 15 was 0 degrees with a wind chill colder than -10 degrees. Given the latest forecast trends, it appears Saturday night’s forecast could be “in the ballpark”.
While much of WNY will climb at or above freezing Wednesday and Thursday, an arctic cold front will drop southward late day Thursday. This will spark a shift to a northerly wind, ushering in a fresh and potent bitterly cold air mass that will ooze southward Friday into Saturday.
An early afternoon game would likely feature temperatures in the teens. But this will be a night game with an 8:15pm kickoff, which means the teens may be long gone by gametime. Current guidance suggest temperatures will sputter into the single digits in Orchard Park by that late hour, coupled with a breeze out of the east of 5-10 mph that will drop wind chills below zero.
There are still some model discrepancies on just how cold it will get Saturday night. Some of that revolves around the cloud cover, or lack of. Clearing and lighter winds might take the edge off the wind chill, but ultimately promote more effective radiational cooling in which the air temperature drops further. More of a breeze keeps the air temperature up, but lowers the wind chill. Pick your poison, both result in bone chilling cold.
As an example, pictured below are raw wind chill data from both the GFS and Euro model. Both clearly suggest frigid cold, but the caliber remains different with the Euro notably colder, supported by a clearer sky (again, radiational cooling) and slightly colder overall low level air mass.
This setup is unlikely to produce any meaningful snow outside of a random flurry, so no issues there traveling. For those who will be attending the game, cold of this magnitude needs to be taken seriously. While a capacity crowd will be packed in like sardines, there will be no escaping the chill. Proper attire is a must, making sure to cover every inch of exposed skin in multiple layers as best as possible. Remember, you’ll be exposed to the elements for several hours. Frostbite won’t need that long.
By the way, the Bills ended up winning that January 15, 1994 game 29-23. Just a few weeks prior on December 26, 1993, the Bills played a similarly chilly game with a gametime temperature around 10 degrees and a wind chill of -10. They won that one 16-14.
Here’s hoping there’s something to that.
Chief Meteorologist Eric Snitil