Snowstorm batters western New York, restricting travel ahead of Thanksgiving

by Jacob Fuller


Snowfall of more than 6 feet in western New York state prompted local officials on Saturday to further restrict road travel and forced airlines to cancel flights in the Buffalo area, just ahead of the busy Thanksgiving holiday week.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul called in the National Guard, deploying about 150 members to help with snow removal and resident needs in the hardest-hit parts of Erie County.

At a press conference Saturday afternoon, Hochul said she would sign a request for a federal emergency declaration to seek reimbursements for expenses on storm response.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said most residents heeded driving bans and stayed home, which he believes averted tragedies.

“We’ve avoided a lot of the incidents and accidents that unfortunately have taken lives in the past,” he said at the news event in Hamburg, N.Y., one of the areas hardest hit by snow. “I believe lives have been saved.”

Erie County, which has felt the brunt of the snowfall, recorded totals of 77 inches in Orchard Park, New York, the site of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills home field.

Squalls began blowing in from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario on Thursday to produce the region’s first major snowstorm of the season, more than a month before the start of winter.

According to the National Weather Service, conditions could persist through Monday morning.

Nearly 90 crashes have been reported and almost 290 people were rescued from roads, Hochul said.

“We do have some passenger vehicles that have been abandoned,” she said. “They’re being dealt with, but the scale is nowhere near what we’ve seen with storms from the past.”

The roof of a long-time bowling alley in Hamburg collapsed under the weight of the snow, she added.

State police issued more than 390 tickets, many of which went to tractor trailer drivers, for travel ban violations, Hochul said.

Nearly three feet of snow had fallen at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, where many flights were canceled on Saturday. Buffalo, the second-largest city in New York, was placed back under a travel ban on Saturday morning.

“This has been a very unpredictable storm with the snow bands moving, back and forth, north to south,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told CNN. “The snow has come down very fast, very wet, very heavy.”

Buffalo saw daily record snowfall of more than 16 inches, topping the one-day record of 7.6 inches recorded in 2014, the National Weather Service said on Saturday.

At least two deaths were reported on Friday. Poloncarz said in a tweet that two residents died of apparent heart attacks while shoveling snow.

County officials warned people to stay off roads to keep clear for snow removal crews. Poloncarz said some communities could see driving bans lifted later by Saturday evening.

Illustrating the highly localized nature of lake-effect snow, accumulation levels varied widely across the region. Still, 11 counties remained under an emergency declaration issued on Thursday by Hochul.

The U.S. National Weather Service forecasted lake-effect snow will dump up to 14 inches in the counties of Chautaqua and Cattaraugus Saturday night through Sunday. Snow bands are forecast to bring up to 2 feet of snow in Oswego and Lewis counties beginning Sunday morning.

After a northward shift that will impact the Niagara County, the Buffalo area should brace for more snowfall late Saturday, according to Erie County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Daniel Neaverth.

“It’s going to eventually swing back down through the county sweeping all the way back through,” he said.

Copyright 2022 Thomson/Reuters