The city of Buffalo, where heavy snow is commonly met with a shrug and a shovel, awoke on Saturday to chest-high drifts left by a lake-effect storm that ran roughshod over roadways. Forecasters promised a continued pummeling overnight. Officials said the storm appeared to drop a record …
BUFFALO — The city of Buffalo, where heavy snow is commonly met with a shrug and a shovel, awoke on Saturday to chest-high drifts left by a lake-effect storm that ran roughshod over roadways. Forecasters promised a continued pummeling overnight.
Officials said the storm appeared to drop a record amount of snow for Erie County in a 24-hour period — up to six inches per hour at times, leaving more than 50, 60 and even 70 inches over the whited-out region. Wind roared through Buffalo’s city corridors, picking up snow and flinging it sideways wherever it chose. And in parts of the region south of the city, snowfall totals crept above six feet, even as the storm shifted north.
County officials said two people had died as a result of the storm. There were 280 people rescued in the area, and some 1,600 without power. The storm was also expected to strengthen and return later Saturday, dumping another six inches of snow or more.
The county’s prior record for snowfall in a 24-hour period, 47.5 inches, was set during a massive storm in 2014 that left more than 86 inches by its third day. The state’s overall record was set in 1966, when 50 inches fell on Oneida County in a day, according to the National Weather Service. Unconfirmed reports on Saturday suggested more than that amount fell in Orchard Park alone.
“We believe we’ll be making history with having the most amount of snowfall in a 24-hour period right here in the state of New York,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a news conference Saturday. “Never happened like this before.”
Alex Mayne, 26, took advantage of a midday respite to try to free his car from a shoulder of Hertel Avenue and visit an elderly family member. Two neighbors arrived to help push — “A very Buffalo thing to do,” Mr. Mayne said.
South of the city, travel was nearly impossible in the hardest hit areas as the storm threatened to upend plans for Thanksgiving throughout the region.
Thomas Headon, 22, a musician from England, was traveling from Boston to Chicago on Friday with nine other people, when the storm forced their tour bus to stop on the side of the road in Orchard Park. (The Buffalo Bills, whose home stadium is in Orchard Park, had already had their Sunday afternoon game moved to Detroit.).
Mr. Headon and his fellow travelers used a generator on the bus to stay warm overnight, he said, but his scheduled show in Chicago on Saturday was canceled, costing him thousands of dollars.
“It was all of us in the bus all night,” he said. “Stuck by the highway.”
But after loading up on food and beer at a nearby supermarket, the group was going to try and make it to Toronto for its next gig.
Ms. Hochul, a Democrat and Buffalo native, had already declared a state of emergency for 11 counties, including some adjacent to Lake Ontario in New York’s northern borderland with Canada, where the storm was also roaring. She was scheduled to appear at a news conference in Hamburg, a particularly hard-hit town about 15 miles south of downtown Buffalo on Saturday afternoon.
Most businesses in Orchard Park remained closed on Saturday with deep snow blanketing parking lots and entrances. Plows and backhoes of every size were ubiquitous throughout the area, clearing roadways as emergency and utility vehicles wove through town.
Midday Saturday, Greg Shiltz, 47, of Orchard Park, was standing on top of his red pickup truck and shoveling off a few feet of snow after spending about four hours digging out of his driveway Saturday.
“I’m finally catching up,” he said.
“There’s been a lot of snow,” he added. “But it’s better than a tornado. It will eventually melt.”
Piles of snow, in some places taller than most people, buried parts of western and northern New York as a lake-effect storm pounded areas east of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario for a third straight day Saturday, with possibly even more to come.
Snowfall totals as high as 77 inches (196 centimetres) were reported in the Buffalo suburb of Orchard Park, home to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Partway across the state, the town of Natural Bridge, near the Fort Drum Army base, reported just under 6 feet (1.8 metres).
The snowfall in some spots ranked among the highest ever recorded in the area, rivalling the eye-popping amounts that fell during similar storms in 2014 and 1945.
The snowfall totals, which began accumulating Thursday night in some spots, “would be on the order of historic not only for any time of year but for any part of the country,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Frank Pereira, at NWS headquarters in College Park, Maryland.
The lake-effect storm, caused by cold air picking up moisture from warmer lakes, created narrow bands of windblown snow that dumped feet of snow in some communities, while leaving towns a short drive away relatively unscathed.
It wreaked havoc on some roadways, as trucks that took to smaller backroads to avoid a closure on parts of an interstate in the area ended up in mass gridlock that Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz described on social media as “tractor-trailer demo derby day.”
It also wreaked havoc on the wedding plans of Robert Junge and Maria Szeglowski, who had picked this day for their nuptials after getting engaged exactly a year ago.
Their reception venue cancelled, rescheduling for next week. The musician they hired for their church ceremony also couldn’t make it, along with more than half of their expected 180 guests.
But they were determined, using one of two limos they rented to get the bride to the church, while Junge drove himself.
“Nothing was going to stop me from marrying her, no matter what,” Junge, 35, of North Tonawanda, New York, told The Associated Press.
On the bright side, he said, the snow is “going to make for some beautiful pictures.”
The snowfall forced the National Football League to move Sunday’s game between the Bills and Cleveland Browns to Detroit.
Partial sunshine and a break from the snow came in some of the hardest-hit areas south of Buffalo’s center Saturday as the snow bands shifted north.
Forecasters predicted several inches more could fall Saturday night into Sunday, although Pereira said different areas in the region were likely to be hit rather than totals increasing too much in the areas where the heaviest snows had already fallen.
Gov. Kathy Hochul deployed about 70 members of the National Guard to help with snow removal in some of the hardest-hit areas.
Poloncarz tweeted that two people in the Buffalo area died “associated with cardiac events related to exertion during shoveling/snow blowing.”
The lake-effect has also dumped up to 2 feet (0.6 metres) of snow in some communities in Michigan south of Lake Superior and east of Lake Michigan.
A snowplow driver in the town of Hamlet, Indiana, was killed Friday when his plow slid off the pavement and rolled over, according to the Starke County Sheriff’s Department. Hamlet is about 30 miles (48 kilometres) from Lake Michigan.
Buffalo has experience with dramatic lake-effect snowstorms, few worse than the one that struck in November 2014. That epic storm dumped 7 feet (2 metres) of snow on some communities over three days, collapsing roofs and trapping drivers in more than 100 vehicles on a lakeside stretch of the New York State Thruway.