Heavy snow is expected to continue piling up in western New York state through Sunday after a historic storm saw the Buffalo area logging record snowfall totaling more than 6 feet in some areas.
Just after 11 p.m. Saturday, the National Weather Service (NWS) in Buffalo issued a special weather statement warning that a band of heavy snow accompanied by winds of up to 30 mph was creating a “burst of snow” to western New York state. The band was moving south of the Buffalo and Rochester metro areas, it said.
“This band of heavy snow is producing extremely heavy snow at the rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour,” the NWS said. “Use extra caution if you must travel … Rapid changes in visibility and potentially slick roads may lead to accidents.”
While the Buffalo area is used to dealing with heavy snowfall, this storm is delivering “much more than we usually get,” Mayor Byron Brown told CNN Saturday.
Erie County, which includes Buffalo, experienced its largest ever amount of snowfall in a 24-hour period Saturday, according to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Since the snow started falling, two people have died from cardiac complications related to shoveling and attempting to clear the ground, he said.
As the heaviest snow slides south of the greater Buffalo area into southern Erie and Chautauqua counties overnight, an additional 6 to 18 inches is possible in the region, especially across higher terrain, CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.
Stronger winds accompanying an approaching cold front will extend the snow bands further inland from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario into Sunday, he said.
Snowfall totals of more than 6 feet have been recorded in two locations, according to the National Weather Service. Orchard Park, where the NFL’s Buffalo Bills play, picked up 77.0 inches in a 48-hour period, and Natural Bridge, just east of Watertown, picked up 72.3 inches – historic numbers for the area.
The multi-day event has made travel in the region difficult, triggering the closing of roads, driving bans and flight cancellations the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday.
On Saturday night, the NWS warned that the latest band would make travel conditions severe in a matter of minutes.
“Intense lake effect snow has returned to the Buffalo office. Visibility is down to a few hundred feet and roads are snow covered. Stay where you are if you can for the next few hours until after this snowband swings through on its way to the Boston Hills and Southern Tier,” NWS Buffalo said.
Nearly 400 citations have been issued to drivers who have been found violating travel bans in the region, Poloncarz, the Erie County executive, said.
“If you’re trying to enter an area where a travel ban exists, you will meet a friendly neighborhood New York State trooper who will immediately give you a ticket for violating the travel ban,” Poloncarz said.
Authorities are towing vehicles that are stuck on the side of the road or have been involved in accidents because of people traveling during the snowstorm, he said.
Air travelers haven’t been faring much better, with dozens of flights arriving and departing from Buffalo Niagara International Airport canceled as storm conditions worsened, according to the airport’s website.
The airport set a daily snowfall record of 17.2 inches Saturday, shattering the previously daily record of 7.6 inches set in 2014, the local weather office said.
This month is already Buffalo’s third-snowiest November at the airport thanks to the storm, according to the local weather service office.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul touted the state’s storm preparedness Saturday afternoon and said crews have been working tirelessly to manage the situation.
“This is the effort we’ve brought together: bringing resources, people, equipment from all over the state of New York. And because we were so preemptive in this strike, we were able to avert many tragedies,” Hochul said.
She thanked western New Yorkers for shutting down major highways, implementing travel bans and staying home before the snow started to fall, which helped prevent accidents, protect human life and ensure roads are safe and clear for emergency services.
Hochul said she is doubling the number of New York National Guard members on the ground in Erie County to check on residents and help with snow removal.
She is also signing a request for federal reimbursement through a Federal Emergency Disaster Declaration.
Winter weather alerts remained in effect for more than 8 million people across six Great Lakes states Saturday evening: Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Brown, the Buffalo mayor, said the city could return to “some sense of normalcy” by Monday or Tuesday, assuming the worst of the storm passes through by Sunday.
“This has been a very unpredictable storm with the snow bands moving, back and forth, north to south,” Brown said. “The snow has come down very fast, very wet, very heavy.”