BUFFALO (Reuters) – An early winter “lake effect” storm dropped significant amounts of snow on sections of western New York state on Friday, causing travel disruptions, at least two fatalities, and additional accumulation of ice powder through the weekend.
Three to five feet (1 to 1.5 meters) or more of snow had been dropped by the squalls coming in from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Authorities stated that the deaths in hard-hit Erie County looked to result from heart attacks brought on by overexertion while clearing snow. Long before winter officially began on December 21 and as temperatures dropped, the region’s first significant snowstorm of the season developed on Thursday and grew overnight into Friday.
The National Weather Service predicted that lake-effect squalls will continue through Sunday. They caused occasional bursts of heavy precipitation throughout the day, covering some regions with several feet of snow. The Erie County community of Orchard Park, located 15 miles (25 km) south of Buffalo and more directly in the downwind of the route of frozen moisture pouring inland off Lake Erie, had received 5 1/2 feet (1.7 meters) of snow by Friday evening, according to the weather service.
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By late afternoon, numerous nearby locations had received 3 to 4 feet or more of snow, while Buffalo, the state’s second-largest city with about 278,000 inhabitants, had only received almost 14 inches (36 cm) by Friday morning. Hamburg’s partial building collapse due to the weight of snowfall was reported by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, but no other information was immediately available.
As the storm intensified, the weather service cited numerous instances of “thunder snow,” a phenomenon in which snow squalls were accompanied by thunderclaps and lightning flashes. Numerous major highways, including the New York Thruway, were closed to traffic as a result of the storm, which also knocked out electricity to thousands of customers due to high winds, snow-covered tree limbs, and power lines.
According to the airport’s aviation director Lee Weitz, all but five of the almost 80 planes planned to leave from the facility on Friday have been canceled.
However, many residents in western New York, who are used to periods of harsh winter weather, appeared unconcerned. The @BuffaloSnowKing Twitter account shared a video of himself standing outside late on Thursday night as snow covered his yard. He tweeted, “How can you not like this weather!”
For a large portion of Erie County’s central region, road travel bans that had kept drivers off the roads throughout the night were still in place as of early Friday. In the northern and southern regions of the county, including Buffalo, mandatory restrictions were temporarily withdrawn in place of travel advisories.
Plow operators fought to keep the roads clean as snow fell at a pace of 1 to 3 inches per hour, and the strain of clearing snow proved too much for some. Poloncarz tweeted, “We regret to inform you of the passing of two Erie County citizens due to cardiac incidents related to exertion during shoveling/snow blowing.
According to the weather service, snowfalls of this size are not unusual for western New York in November when the Great Lakes’ relatively warm waters can mingle with chilly air rising from the Arctic. The vast variations in accumulation across the area show how lake-effect snow is relatively localized. On Thursday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared an emergency declaration that was still in effect for 11 counties.
Even though necessary employees were required to show up to work on Friday, Erie County closed its doors. The second-largest school district in the state, Buffalo Public Schools, which enrolls 32,000 kids, canceled all classes and shut down its offices on Friday.
The National Football League decided to move the Buffalo Bills’ Sunday home game against the Cleveland Browns to Detroit because of the possibility of up to 4-1/2 feet of powder remaining on the ground by the end of the weekend.
According to Rich Otto, a meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, the storm formed as temperatures for the area and much of the rest of the northern United States fell 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (5-10 degrees Celsius) below typical for this time of year.