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Four feet of snow in Buffalo area, and more Is expected

Nov. 18, 2022 Updated Fri., Nov. 18, 2022 at 9:25 p.m.

By Jesse McKinley, Judson Jones and Michael D. Regan New York Times

BUFFALO, N.Y. – With Thanksgiving still days away, an unpredictable late-fall snowstorm blew through western New York on Friday, unleashing whipping wind and bands of snow as hundreds of thousands of residents hunkered down.

Heavy, wet snow that began Thursday night crashed across a series of towns adjacent to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, including Blasdell, where more than 4 feet were recorded. Snowfall rates of 2 to 3 inches an hour challenged even the hardiest of snow plows.

Roads and highways were closed around the region Friday afternoon, including commercial traffic on parts of the New York State Thruway, the state’s east-west corridor. School days and other civic functions were canceled. And at least two deaths were tied to cardiac arrest, according to the Erie County executive, Mark Poloncarz, who warned late Friday that additional snow was in the works for Saturday.

Buffalo, New York’s second largest city, was spared the early brunt of the snow but was later boggled by swift changes in the storm.

An early respite in the city was quickly cut short when a band of midmorning snow suddenly led to whiteout conditions downtown. Cars crawled along city streets, braking – and sometimes brake-locking – at intersections as plows tried to keep up with the snowfall.

The Skyway, a central north-south byway, was closed, and lights were off inside the ornate City Hall building and local courthouses. In a sign of the speed of the storm, some squalls were quickly replaced by calmer conditions, with sun pushing through overcast skies. Minutes later, clouds would return, confusing anyone seeking to make travel plans.

Snowfall records were threatened as drifts piled up; the most snow ever recorded in one single day in Erie County was 47.5 inches in a similar storm in November 2014, an early blast that local officials were suggesting was a slightly – for now – worse version of this storm.

In Orchard Park, home of the Buffalo Bills, more than 4 feet of snow had fallen by Friday evening.

Earlier, fears of a “historic” storm led football officials to shift Sunday’s game to Detroit, at the other end of Lake Erie, where the prospect of subfreezing temperatures was considered better than clearing snow off thousands of seats.

Meteorologists in Buffalo were warning that the towns south of Buffalo could see up to 5 feet of snow before the storm disperses over the weekend.

Enthusiastic snow-covered correspondents were a staple of local television, showing monster drifts on the streets south of Buffalo, which was bearing the worst of the precipitation.

In a midday news conference Friday, city officials were stern in their warnings to residents, noting abandoned cars were littering some byways.

“We want no driving whatsoever,” said Mayor Byron Brown, saying that dozens of plows were trying to clear streets in south Buffalo, where a driving ban was in place.

Foreboding clouds continued to hang in the sky into dusk Friday, with more snow and winds forecast, as a slate gray wallpaper hung over Lake Erie. The same storm system was also bringing snow on Lake Ontario’s eastern coast, north of Syracuse, where places such as Tug Hill, long a standout in snowfall, were girding for significant accumulation.

And while Buffalonians are known for shrugging at big snows, taking pride in their ability to weather even the worst of storms, some were already telling tales of storm mayhem.

Forest Richardson, 29, a security guard who lives in downtown Buffalo, was on his way to work to the city’s southside when his 4-by-4 vehicle “did a 360” and became stuck in a snow bank. It took him about 20 minutes to work his way free. He said he was going to turn around and go back home.

“I have this big old truck,” he said. “That’s when you know that it’s bad.”

David Notaro, 62, a maintenance man, was plowing the sidewalk in front of the downtown cafe where he worked and counting his blessings.

“Thank God we didn’t get what they said we were going to get,” he said, referring to an earlier forecast that downtown Buffalo would receive the brunt of the snowfall. Instead, the storm shifted to south Buffalo, where fierce winds were making visibility difficult.

Kathleen Sieg, 32, was shoveling the sidewalk in front of her home with her young son. School was canceled, and the packaging plant where she worked had also shut for the day. “I don’t know why people decided to drive in this,” Sieg said.

The Buffalo area was experiencing lake-effect snow, which occurs when colder air blows over warm lake water. The air soaks up moisture from the lake like a sponge and creates bands of clouds, like in a thunderstorm, that release extreme snow over strips of land.

During these events, the heaviest snowfall sets up in very narrow bands, similar to the way water from a fire hose is focused on one area at a time. So if the wind shifts the band just slightly, the worst snowfall could fall on one side of town and not the other.

“Areas to the north of the city of Buffalo and the airport will likely receive little to no additional accumulation through the day,” the National Weather Service forecasters in Buffalo said Friday. “The heaviest snow will be along a line from Lackawanna and Hamburg inland toward West Seneca and Cheektowaga and Lancaster.”

While the worst might not have hit the heart of Buffalo, the south side of the metro area could still see the “paralyzing snowfall” forecast by meteorologists at the National Weather Service.

Friday night, the fire hose of snowfall is expected to keep shifting northward through Buffalo and toward Niagara County.

On Saturday, “the day will start off with an intense, singular band of heavy lake effect snow across the city of Buffalo, the northtowns and Batavia,” the weather office forecasters said.

(STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.)

At least one recent transplant to Buffalo, a newly vibrant outpost once known for the Erie Canal and lost Super Bowls, was shaking her head at the sheer enormousness of the snow Friday.

Darlene Brooks, 23, who moved here from Rochester last month, was supposed to be celebrating her birthday Friday. Instead, she was digging out.

“Buffalo,” she said, “is coldblooded for doing this on my birthday.”

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