Heavy snowfall is pounding parts of western New York state as a potentially historic storm that’s already halted traffic on major roadways threatens to topple trees, damage property and knock out power as temperatures plunge.
Snowfall totals have now reached 4 feet in at least three locations. Orchard Park, where the Buffalo Bills had been scheduled to play their now-relocated NFL game Sunday, had snowfall totals of up to 54 inches by Friday afternoon.
Blasdell, about 8 miles south of Buffalo, has received 48 inches of snow, including six inches in the hour between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Elma, just southeast of Buffalo also has see 48 inches since the storm rolled in.
Two Erie County residents have died after suffering cardiac events related to shoveling or blowing snow, County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced.
“We send our deepest sympathies and remind all that this snow is very heavy and dangerous,” Poloncarz tweeted.
“Heavy lake effect snow bands are expected to continue difficult to impossible travel, especially, downwind of Lakes Erie and Ontario through this weekend. Some locations may be paralyzed by several feet of snow.,” the National Weather Service said Thursday.
About 6 million people in five Great Lakes states – from Michigan to New York – are under snow alerts Friday, CNN Meteorologist Haley Brink said. Snow produced through lake-effect will continue through Sunday in areas downwind of the Great Lakes, according to the National Weather Service.
Buffalo’s highest three-day snowfall is 56.1 inches, which occurred in December 2001, CNN Meteorologist Brandon Miller said. Indeed, given the rate of snowfall, Buffalo may see a month’s worth of snow in only a few hours. That could make this month the snowiest November since 2000, when 45.6 inches in total fell in the city during the entire month, Miller added.
The heaviest bands of snow Friday were off Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
As the region braces for more:
• Commercial traffic has been banned on some roads, though some bans were replaced by travel advisories Friday morning.
• Flights have been canceled at the Buffalo airport, which already has almost 13 inches of snow.
• The NFL earlier this week moved the Bills’ game against the Cleveland Browns to Detroit. The team hopes to travel from Buffalo on Saturday.
• Parts of Oswego County near Lake Ontario received 2 feet of snow by Thursday evening.
• Hamburg, around 15 miles south of Buffalo, had almost 34 inches by 8 a.m.
• Buffalo public schools are closed Friday. So are Erie County services.
• Places east of Lakes Erie and Ontario could get 3 inches or more of snow per hour, with occasional lightning and gusty winds.
“I want to be very clear: This is not your normal snowfall in the city of Buffalo or in the region,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said Friday. “This is a snowstorm with potentially deadly consequences if people do not do the right thing.”
Imploring residents to take caution this weekend, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul described the storm as a “major, major” snowfall event that could be as life-threatening as the November 2014 snowstorm that claimed the lives of 20 people in the Buffalo region.
Hochul declared a state of emergency for 11 counties.
“This is a super-heavy storm,” Brown told CNN. “Right now, most of the city is in good shape – south Buffalo getting hit very hard. We anticipate that the rest of the city could get hit as hard” later in the day.
Nicole Erb told CNN early Friday afternoon: “It’s a mess out here,” in the backyard of her Orchard Park home.
She estimated she has about 4 feet of snow around her house.
This isn’t Erb’s first snow storm as she’s lived in western New York her entire life. “We know how to handle it,” she said, “It’s keeping people off the roads so plows can do their things, checking in with your elderly neighbors, and not using generators inappropriately.”
But even some of the people clearing roads were getting stuck, Poloncarz, the Erie County executive, said.
“There are vehicles stuck on roads who should not be driving. There are even some snow plows getting stuck in the worst parts of the storm,” he wrote on Twitter.
The mayor urged people to “stay vigilant” and stay home, and the city reinstated a travel ban.
“We’re ready for what comes,” Brown said, praising state, county and various cities’ leaders for cooperation. “We had some time to prepare and plan for this storm.”
Commercial traffic was banned on the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) between exits 53 and 59, according to the agency that operates the highway. Other parts of major interstates – including 290 and 990 – were also shut down.
Officials in Erie County – which includes Buffalo – also declared a state of emergency and banned driving beginning Thursday night. Prohibitions on driving in the northern and southern part of the county were lifted Friday afternoon.
“The lake effect snow from (the storm) is very heavy and may cause tree branches to fall and damage vehicles, property or powerlines. Watch where you park, and be aware of your surroundings if going outside,” Erie County officials wrote online.
Residents of Williamstown in Oswego County near Lake Ontario saw 24 inches of snow as of Thursday evening, according to the weather service. In neighboring Oneida County, some spots were blanketed with 14 inches of snow in the 24 hours before Thursday evening, per the weather service.
Friday alone could bring more than 2 feet of snow, which would make it one of the three snowiest days on record in Buffalo, according to Miller.
“Colder air will continue to pour across the region, resulting in a prolonged lake effect snow event, which will last through this weekend.” National Weather Service forecasters in Buffalo said Friday morning. “Two intense plumes of lake effect snow with snowfall rates of at least 3 inches per hour will continue northeast of the lakes through tonight.”
Lake-effect snow happens when very cold, windy conditions form over a relatively warm lake – meaning the lake might be 40 degrees while the air is zero degrees, Miller explained. The temperature clash creates instability, which allows for the most extreme winter weather to occur.
Other areas affected by the storm include parts of the Upper Peninsula and the western Lower Peninsula of Michigan, where gusty winds and heavy snow will also cause near zero visibility and unsafe travel conditions.