New Yorkers in the western part of the state are still being slammed with a massive snowstorm that has shut down roads, triggered driving bans and canceled flights the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday.
By Friday evening, 5.5 feet of snow had covered streets in the town of Orchard Park, New York, near Buffalo in hard-hit Erie County, according to the National Weather Service. As the snowfall intensified, two county residents died from cardiac complications related to shoveling and attempting to clear the grounds, said County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
“We send our deepest sympathies and remind all that this snow is very heavy and dangerous,” Poloncarz said.
Forecasters and officials have been sounding the alarm on the life-threatening nature of this snowstorm, which has the potential to be historic even for the Buffalo region where heavy snow is the norm during winter months. And the forceful snowfall is expected to continue through the weekend with little periods of relief.
“Historic snowfall exceeding 4 feet will be possible south of Buffalo, New York. Very cold air will accompany this event with temperatures 20 degrees below normal forecast by the weekend,” the National Weather Service wrote Friday.
See snow building as New York faces historic snowstorm
Areas northeast of Lake Ontario – from central Jefferson County to northern Lewis County – were being inundated with heavy snow late Friday, when the snowfall rate was up to 3 inches per hour, according to the weather service in Buffalo. Places between Watertown and Harrisville were also seeing treacherous conditions.
“Travel will be extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible. … Visibility will be near zero at times with deep snow cover on roads,” the local weather service warned.
Dozens of flights arriving and departing from Buffalo Niagara International Airport were canceled as storm conditions worsened, according to the airport’s website.
Heavy snow is expected to continue smashing the Buffalo region early Saturday, with some respite Saturday afternoon as the storm moves farther north. A final bout is expected through Saturday evening and into the overnight hours before snow tapers off early Sunday.
The colossal storm has been pounding the region for days, prompting local and state officials to issue states of emergencies to bolster response. But with a storm that big, it only takes one or two vehicles to slow down clearing operations, Poloncarz noted.
“A reminder to all employers: if your business is located in a driving ban area or your employees are currently in a driving ban area, it is illegal to make them come into work,” Poloncarz said online.
The snowstorm, which came with a forecast for the Buffalo region not seen in more than 20 years, has been making travel miserable for many drivers, despite authorities’ emphasis on staying off the roads.
“I can say that our deputies have been just absolutely inundated with calls for service as it pertains to disabled motor vehicles and stranded motorists,” Erie County Undersheriff William J. Cooley said during a news conference Friday night. “We implore the residents to just, please, obey the travel ban, you become part of the problem very quickly when you’re out there on the streets.”
Erie County issued a combination of travel bans and travel advisories that remain in effect as of 9 p.m. Friday, including a travel ban for the southern portion of Buffalo.
“This is an event that has hit the south towns with a vengeance, very hard and all these communities are in a state of emergency at this point,” Poloncarz said.
Poloncarz underscored the danger the storm is unleashing in communities, pointing out the impacts of heavy snow that are exacerbated by sheets of ice underneath it.
“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. Do not drive if there is a travel ban,” said Poloncarz, adding that most residents have adhered to the ban.
Snow has been falling for an extended period of time at rapid pace, making it difficult for crews to respond.
“In some cases, we are going to far surpass five feet of snow and that’s in a 21-hour period of time,” said Bill Geary, the county’s public works commissioner. “It’s a remarkable amount of time.”
Blasdell, about eight miles from Buffalo, recorded 65 inches as of 8:30 p.m Friday, according to the National Weather Service. Several locations in the region were hit with at least 3 to 4 feet of snow, including Hamburg (51 inches), Elma (48 inches), East Aurora (43.7 inches) and West Seneca (36 inches).