A historic snowstorm hits western New York state Saturday with more than 6 feet of snow in some areas, closing roads, triggering driving bans and canceling flights over the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Another round of heavy lake-effect snowfall is expected to return to the Buffalo area Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service. With most of the heavy snow bands falling across Lake Ontario north of Metro Buffalo on Saturday afternoon.
“Although the band will be moving rapidly, it’s possible that additional amounts of about a half foot or so could occur throughout the Buffalo metro area,” the National Weather Service said.
On Saturday afternoon, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul touted the state’s storming readiness and said crews had been working tirelessly to manage the situation.
“This is the effort that brought us together: bringing together resources, people and equipment from across New York state. And because we took such a preventative approach to this strike, we were able to avert a lot of tragedy,” Hochul said.
She thanked western New Yorkers for closing major freeways, imposing travel bans and staying home before the snow began to fall, which helped prevent accidents, protect lives and ensure roads are safe for emergency services and are free.
Hochul said she is doubling the number of New York National Guard members on the ground in Erie County to patrol residents and help clear snow.
She also signs an application for federal reimbursement through a federal disaster declaration.
Snowfall of more than 6 feet has been recorded in two locations so far, according to the National Weather Service. Orchard Park, where the NFL’s Buffalo Bills play, has gained 77.0 inches in the past 48 hours and Natural Bridge, just east of Watertown, has gained 72.3 inches; historical figures for the area.
As the snowfall increased, two county residents died from heart complications related to shoveling and trying to clear the ground, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said.
“We send our deepest sympathy and remind everyone that this snow is very heavy and dangerous,” said Polonkarz. “Please continue to avoid shoveling this very heavy, wet snow and use caution and avoid overexertion if you have to shovel today.”
As of Saturday night, winter weather warnings are still in place for over 8 million people in six Great Lakes states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.
Meteorologists and officials have sounded the alarm about the life-threatening nature of this blizzard historically even for the Buffalo region, where heavy snowfall is the norm during the winter months. And the heavy snowfall is expected to continue through the weekend with brief periods of relief.
Check out snow as New York faces a historic snowstorm
Areas northeast of Lake Ontario — from central Jefferson County to northern Lewis County — were swamped with heavy snow late Friday, when the snowfall rate was up to 3 inches per hour, according to the Buffalo Weather Service. Locations between Watertown and Harrisville also saw treacherous conditions.
The city of Buffalo is still under a travel ban due to current and expected weather and road conditions, according to the Erie County website.
Dozens of flights arriving and departing from Buffalo Niagara International Airport have been canceled as storm conditions worsened, according to the airport’s website.
This month is already the third snowiest November in Buffalo thanks to the storm, according to the airport local weather service office.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told CNN on Saturday that while his city is used to heavy snowfall, it’s “much more than we normally get.”
He said the city could return to “some sense of normality” by Monday or Tuesday, provided the worst of the storm passed by Sunday.
“This was a very unpredictable storm, with snow bands moving back and forth from north to south,” Brown said. “The snow came down very quickly, very wet, very heavy.”
The colossal storm has raged across the region for days, prompting local and state officials to declare a state of emergency to ramp up the response. But in a storm this size, it only takes a vehicle or two to slow the clearance effort, Poloncarz noted.
“A reminder to all employers that if your company is in a no-drive area, or your employees are currently in a no-drive area, it is illegal to bring them to work,” Poloncarz said on-line.
The snowstorm, which coincided with a Buffalo-area forecast unseen in more than 20 years, has made travel miserable for many drivers, even as authorities made a point of staying off the roads.
“I can say that our deputies have been inundated with 911 calls regarding disabled motor vehicles and stranded motorists,” Erie County Undersheriff William J. Cooley said during a Friday night news briefing. “We are begging local residents to please just comply with the travel ban, you quickly become part of the problem just standing out there on the street.”
More than 300 subpoenas have been issued against drivers who violated the travel ban, Poloncarz said late Friday.
“Please don’t be the reason an ambulance can’t reach the hospital,” he said. “There are many vehicles that not only get stuck, but are simply abandoned by their owners.”
Snow has been falling at a rapid rate for a long time, making it difficult for crews to react.
“In some instances, we will easily exceed 5 feet of snow, and that’s in a 21-hour period,” said Bill Geary, the county public works commissioner. “It’s a remarkable amount of time.”