Dangerous lake-effect snow paralyzes parts of New York state

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A dangerous lake-effect snowstorm paralyzed parts of western and northern New York on Friday, dumping more than 5 feet in some places, with more expected to fall overnight Saturday. The storm was blamed for the deaths of two people struck while shoveling snow.

The strength of the storm varied widely due to the characteristics of lake-effect storms, which are caused by cold winds that pick up moisture from warmer lakes and dump snow in narrow bands.

Residents in parts of Buffalo spent Friday buffeted by windy, heavy snow punctuated by occasional thunderstorms, while just a few miles to the north only a few inches fell and there were patches of blue skies.

The heaviest snowfall was south of the city. The National Weather Service reported one-day totals of 3 feet (1 meter) in many places along the eastern edge of Lake Erie, with bands of heavier rainfall bringing 66 inches (168 centimeters) in the Buffalo suburb of Orchard Park, 48 inches ( 122 centimeters) in Elma and more than 3 feet in Hamburg, where rescue teams were called to help a resident whose home buckled under the weight.

Schools were closed. Amtrak stations in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Depew closed Thursday and Friday. Numerous flights to and from Buffalo Niagara International Airport were canceled.

The storm was blamed for two deaths, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, tweeting that they were “related to exertional cardiac events while shoveling/snow blowing.”

“We send our deepest condolences and remind everyone that this snow is very heavy and dangerous,” he said.

By Friday afternoon, AAA tow truck drivers were having trouble reaching dozens of stranded drivers who defied travel bans and advisories, association spokeswoman Elizabeth Carey said.

“AAA crews have been trying to reach people who called and said they were damaged or stranded or off the road with their vehicle. … A lot of our tow truck drivers kept calling and saying ‘the police got me back,’” she said. In some cases, the tow trucks trailed behind the carriers busy clearing the road. AAA reports the locations of other drivers to the police.

Even before the snow started falling, the NFL announced it was going to rain move Sunday’s Buffalo Bills home game against the Cleveland Browns from the team’s stadium in Orchard Park to Detroit.

A day later, the Bills tweeted photos of Highmark Stadium showing the field and its 60,000-plus seats literally covered in snow, and forecasters warned of an additional foot or more by Sunday.

Scott Fleetwood of West Seneca captured video of lightning striking his home throughout the night, as well as snow quickly burying the pumpkins on his front porch.

“The sky is white. … Everything is white. The only thing you can really see is the house across the street,” he said.

“My tiki bar is now an igloo,” he added.

Zaria Black of Buffalo cleared a few inches off her car Friday morning while getting ready to go to work. The Amazon employee expected she would be out most of the day and was nervous about the road conditions.

“It’s looking pretty bad right now,” she said.

With many stranded and abandoned cars, Mayor Byron Brown urged people to stay off the roads in hard-hit south Buffalo, where extra city and private plows were deployed.

“When it’s snowing between 3 and 4.5 inches an hour, you can’t beat it,” he warned drivers at a news conference. “You’re going to get stuck.”

Meanwhile, streets in downtown and north Buffalo were cleared but were mostly empty of traffic Friday afternoon. Buffalo resident David Munschauer was well aware of the wildly contrasting scenes as he walked around.

“I’m 68 and I’ve lived in this town probably 60 of 68 and it always amazes me,” he said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency Thursday for parts of western New York, including communities along the eastern edges of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The declaration covers 11 counties, with all vehicles prohibited from traveling on Interstate 90.

“I am so proud of Western New Yorkers for heeding our call to stay off the roads last night; it was insidious,” Hochul told radio station WBEN. “And as a result, we’ve been able to salt, we’ve been able to clear the roads better than we would if they were full of traffic, and we’ve really avoided a large number of accidents.”

Catholic Health, which operates several health facilities in the storm zone, has been preparing for days.

“Our staff are really stepping up and people are making every effort to get in where they can. Some associates spend the night,” spokeswoman JoAnn Cavanaugh said. “We made sure our supplies were stocked – food and things for our patients as well as associates.”

Heavy snow accumulations were also reported in northern New York on the eastern edge of Lake Ontario and in parts of northern Michigan. Parts of Pennsylvania also saw lake-like accumulations of snow.

Fort Drum, N.Y., near Lake Ontario, saw 42 inches, the National Weather Service said Friday.

In southwest Michigan, State Police reported a 20-25 vehicle pileup on US 131 in Kalamazoo County. No serious injuries were reported.

“Roads still icy, slush, need to cut back,” police said on Twitter.

Buffalo has a history of dramatic lake-effect snowstorms, several worse than the one that hit in November 2014. This epic storm dumped 7 feet (2 meters) of snow on some communities over three days. collapsing roofs and catching drivers in more than 100 vehicles on a coastal stretch of New York State Highway.

Registered nurse Mary Ann Murphy remembers walking to Mercy Hospital, with husband Steve by her side, during the storm in 2014. The memory made them both especially glad she was able to drive to work in Friday, despite about 2 feet of snow.

“I just shot him down the street with my little SUV,” said Murphy, who lives about a mile from the Buffalo hospital. “I was just excited that I didn’t have to go.”

Friday’s snow also reminded Bruce Leader of the 2014 storm dubbed “Snow-vember,” which, like this week’s storm, also left some parts of the region swamped while others saw just a few inches.

“I was driving back and forth to work in Niagara County and I was scratching my head, like, ‘What’s all the fuss about?'” he said of the 2014 event. photos. And they were doing the same this morning.

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