Democrat & Chronicle, Max Schulte) MAGS OUT; NO SALES, Associated Press
Francis Garcia uses his tractor to drive and pick up a wheel assembly for his van that broke down, Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, in Rochester, N.Y. "It's a lot easier than riding my bike," he said during the snow that fell Friday moring in Rochester.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — They said it wouldn't last.

Western New York's oddly mild winter was merely a memory Friday after a cold front dropped temperatures from the 40s to the 20s overnight and set up a snowy, wind-whipped morning commute.

So far this season, Buffalo had received less than five inches of snow, about the same amount that was expected to fall Friday, from that city and east to Rochester. Up to eight inches were forecast for Syracuse, perennially upstate New York's snowiest city.

Far worse than the accumulation — moderate by the region's standards — were 25- to 35-mph winds that blew the snow in blinding sheets across roadways.

"You get a little bit nervous and you're holding the steering wheel extra tight," said Joy Testa Cinquino, who arrived at her job at Buffalo's downtown library about a half hour late after a hurry-up-and-wait drive of stops and starts behind brake lights.

The wind, with gusts up to 50 mph, was expected to die down in time for the evening rush. The National Weather Service had a winter weather advisory in effect until 7 p.m. from western to central New York.

"We go from no snow to a blizzard," said Courtney Taylor of Lewiston, north of Buffalo, holding on to keep her fur-lined hood up as she walked outside.

The major school districts of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse remained open, but several districts in harder-hit outlying areas were closed, adding a fourth day to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Scattered power outages were reported, including in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst, where about 1,400 National Grid customers were in the dark.

Among dozens of crashes were a multi-vehicle pileup and a jackknifed tractor-trailer that closed portions of I-81 during white-outs in Oswego and Jefferson counties, according to the state transportation department. Earlier, an overturned truck was reported on Route 20 southwest of Syracuse, where firefighters reported near white-out conditions at the crash scene.

By noon, about 20 accidents had been reported along a 145-mile stretch of New York State Thruway from the Pennsylvania state line to Victor, east of Rochester, said Rick Gallivan, of the New York State Thruway Authority. Only one involved a minor injury, he said.

Cold temperatures and light snow are expected to linger through the weekend, but 40-degree temperatures are forecast to return Tuesday.

Even though Testa Cinquino's been eager to cross country ski, "I'm so happy it's January 13 and not December 13 or November 13" that winter arrived, she said.

Associated Press writer Chris Carola contributed to this report from Albany.