Even by western New York standards, Friday’s snowstorm was colossal, bringing accumulation totals to eye-level in some areas and prompting officials to tell many people used to driving in inclement weather to stay off the roads .
“I can say that our deputies have been inundated with service calls when it comes to disabled motor vehicles and stranded motorists,” Erie County Deputy Sheriff William J. Cooley said at a news conference Friday night as heavy, wet snow continued to fall. “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.”
Snowfall totals reached 5 feet in at least two locations. Orchard Park, where the Buffalo Bills were scheduled to play their now-rescheduled NFL game on Sunday, had snowfalls of up to 66 inches through Friday night. Blasdell, about eight miles from Buffalo, recorded 65 inches at 8:30 p.m
The storm had contributed to two deaths. Two Erie County residents died after suffering cardiac events related to shoveling or blowing snow, County Executive Mark Poloncarz previously said.
“We send our deepest sympathy and remind everyone that this snow is very heavy and dangerous,” Poloncarz tweeted. At the press conference, he advised residents to wait one more day before trying to clear the snow.
Buffalo’s highest three-day snowfall is 56.1 inches, which occurred in December 2001, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said. One area of the city reported nearly 20 inches Friday morning.
“It can get very dangerous in those areas where the snow is falling so quickly,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told CNN’s The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer. “Fortunately, most of the greater Buffalo area is in good shape. … South Buffalo was hit extremely hard.”
Poloncarz said the lake-effect snow event hit the southern Buffalo cities “with a vengeance, very hard, and all of these communities are in a state of emergency at this time.”
As the region waited for the storm:
• As of Friday night, the area reported snowing 1-3 inches National Weather Service in Buffalo.
• Buffalo has a vehicle driving ban in the southern portion of the city and notices elsewhere.
• According to FlightAware.com, about 70% of outbound flights have been canceled at Buffalo Airport, which has nearly 13 inches of snow.
• Earlier this week, the NFL moved the Bills’ game against the Cleveland Browns to Detroit. That Team hopes to travel from Buffalo on Saturday.
• Hamburg, about 15 miles south of Buffalo, had nearly 34 inches of snow as of 8 am
• Buffalo public schools were closed on Friday. The same applies to Erie County services.
Earlier, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul urged residents to exercise caution this weekend, describing the storm as a “big, big” snowfall event that could be as life-threatening as the November 2014 blizzard that killed 20 people in the Buffalo Killed Region.
Hochul declared a state of emergency for 11 counties.
Nicole Erb told CNN early Friday afternoon, “It’s a mess out here,” in the backyard of her Orchard Park home.
She estimated she has about 4 feet of snow around her house.
This isn’t Erb’s first snowstorm, as she’s lived her entire life in western New York. “We know how to deal with that,” she said, “it keeps people off the streets so plows can do their stuff, check in with your elderly neighbors, and don’t use generators inappropriately.”
But even some of the people clearing roads got stuck, said Poloncarz, the Erie County executive.
“There are vehicles stuck on roads that shouldn’t be going. There are even some snowplows that get stuck in the worst parts of the storm,” he wrote on Twitter.
Commercial traffic was banned on the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) between exits 53 and 59. according to the agency operating the highway. Other parts of the major freeways – including the 290 and 990 – have also been closed.
Officials in Erie County — which includes Buffalo — also declared a state of emergency and banned driving beginning Thursday night. The driving bans in the north and south of the district were lifted on Friday afternoon.
“The lake effect snow from (the storm) is very heavy and can cause branches to fall and damage vehicles, property or power lines. Be careful where you park and be aware of your surroundings when you step outside,” Erie County officials wrote online.
Residents of Williamstown in Oswego County, near Lake Ontario, saw 24 inches of snow Thursday night, according to the weather service. Neighboring Oneida County was covered with 14 inches of snow in some spots in the 24 hours leading up to Thursday evening, according to the weather service.
The heaviest snow shifted just a few miles south of the hardest-hit region early Friday night, according to CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward. However, the snow band is expected to return north later in the evening and even shift north far enough for downtown Buffalo to be caught in the heavy snow again overnight and early Saturday.
Much of the area will be disrupted Saturday afternoon as snow shifts even further north. A final band makes its way through the Saturday evening and into the night hours before the snow begins to lift early Sunday.
“Colder air will continue to flow over the region, leading to a sustained lake-effect snow event that will continue this weekend,” forecasters at the National Weather Service in Buffalo said Friday morning. “Two intense lake effect snow clouds with snowfall rates of at least 3 inches per hour will continue northeast of the lakes through tonight.”
Lake-effect snow occurs when very cold, windy conditions form over a relatively warm lake — meaning the lake can be 40 degrees while the air is zero, Miller explained. The temperature conflict creates instability that allows for the most extreme winter weather.
Other areas affected by the storm include parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and western Lower Peninsula, where gusty winds and heavy snowfall will also result in near-zero visibility and unsafe travel conditions.