Lake-effect snow that killed eight people and halted travel across western New York may reach as high as 7 feet in some areas before stopping tomorrow, when temperatures will start to rise along with the risk of flooding.
At least 463 plows, 81 front-end loaders and 1,177 crew members are converging on the area, where the snow has to be dug rather than plowed because it is so heavy, Governor Andrew Cuomo said. Photographs posted on Twitter showed houses buried to the eaves and cars covered on highways. Schools closed and mail delivery ground to a halt.
“When we add up all the damage and all the cost, I think it’s going to be a very large amount of money,” Cuomo said at a press briefing yesterday. “If we can get federal support, I would love that.”
Eight people died in the storm, most of them from heart attacks, the Associated Press said, citing officials in Erie County, which includes Buffalo, and neighboring Genessee County.
Lancaster, east of the city, had more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) of snow as of this morning, the National Weather Service said. Normally, Buffalo receives about 94.7 (241 centimeters) inches per year, according to the agency’s website.
“This snowfall may break all kinds of records, and that’s saying something in western New York,” Cuomo said.
While the snow totals may reach 7 feet or more by the time the second round ends, it will be some time before anyone will know if a record has been set, said David Church, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Cheektowaga, east of Buffalo. Buffalo Niagara International Airport is the point at which the official measurements are recorded. It only had 6.2 inches as of yesterday.
“Locally, it was a good event, but as far as making the determination it will be hard to do just based on where the snow was,” Church said by telephone.
The New York State Thruway closed between Ripley, New York, near the border with Pennsylvania, and Rochester, 139 miles (224 kilometers) away, according to the Thruway Authority’s website. Parts of Interstate 190 also shut and Amtrak service was halted west of Albany.
About 150 people were trapped for a time on the Thruway, even though Cuomo ordered it closed before the storm hit, said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. A jackknifed tractor- trailer caused a traffic jam just as the snow began. Cuomo said drivers also failed to obey the road closure before officials could block entrance ramps.
The trapped drivers were freed, although some truck drivers chose to stay with their rigs, Cuomo said.
At least 127 flights from Buffalo Niagara International were canceled since Nov. 18, FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking service, said at 9:11 a.m. local time.
Buses, trains and the Buffalo area’s two airports were running, although 14 routes were shut in areas south of downtown, said C. Douglas Hartmayer, a spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which carries about 94,000 people daily on 332 buses, 27 rail cars, 35 vans and four trolley-buses.
“In downtown Buffalo proper, there’s just a covering of snow, and the city proper has been able to operate throughout the storm,” Hartmayer said. “It’s the south side and towns to the south that have been inundated by this monster storm. Those communities have been paralyzed, literally paralyzed.”
An estimated 220,000 tons of snow need to be moved in Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, said Andy Major, the National Football League team’s vice president of operations. Team spokesman Scott Berchtold said the Bills were preparing to play as scheduled Sunday against the New York Jets.
The snow was caused by lake-effect storms, which occur when cold air passes over relatively warm water. Water temperature in lakes Erie and Ontario range from the high 30s Fahrenheit to the mid-40s (about 7 Celsius), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The area got a break yesterday when a low pressure system bringing widespread light snow cut off the wind, said Bruce Terry, a meteorologist with the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. As it passed, cold winds returned.
By this weekend, temperatures will moderate and reach into the 50s, Church said.
“Our next concern will be thinking about any flooding once the snow starts to melt,” Church said. “We may be dealing with the aftermath of this for a while.”
–With assistance from Mason Levinson in New York.