As a massive winter storm continues to pound much of the United States, killing at least 37 people, parts of western New York have been buried by up to 43 inches of snow, stranding vehicles and knocking out power for thousands over the Christmas holiday.
According to CNN, the storm is the “most devastating storm in Buffalo’s long storied history.” As of Sunday night, the heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions had rendered roads impassable due to zero visibility, frozen power substations, and killed at least 17 people across the state.
Just one month after a historic snowstorm, Western New York is drowning in thick “lake effect” snow, which forms when cold air moves over the warm waters of the Great Lakes.
Even as rescue crews and hundreds of plow drivers fanned out on Christmas Day, emergency and recovery vehicles dispatched to assist were stranded in the snow. According to officials, eleven ambulances that had to be abandoned were dug out on Sunday.
“The rescue team was rescuing rescuers … it was so horrible,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz at a press conference on Sunday. He said that many of New York’s weather-related fatalities occurred in Erie County, where some people were discovered dead in cars and on the street in snowbanks.
The deaths reported in Buffalo are “are people found outside and in cars,” according to a Buffalo Police statement.
Hundreds of National Guard troops have been deployed to New York to assist with rescue efforts. By Sunday, state police had been involved in over 500 rescues, including delivering a baby and assisting a man with 4% left on his mechanical heart, according to the governor.
“We’re still in the throes of this very dangerous life-threatening situation,” Hochul said, urging residents to stay off the roads as an Erie County driving ban remains in effect until Monday.
“Our state and county plows have been out there, nonstop, giving up time and putting themselves in danger, driving through blinding snowstorms to clear the roads,” Hochul said.
As blizzard conditions swept the region, about 500 motorists were stranded in their vehicles Friday night into Saturday morning, according to Poloncarz, who described terrifying road conditions.
“Consider staring at a white sheet a few feet in front of you for more than 24 hours in a row. That’s how it felt outside in the worst weather “He stated. “It was a constant blizzard with white outs, so no one could see where they were going. Nobody had any idea what was going on.”
While abandoned vehicles litter the snow-covered roadways – with hundreds of cars still parked on Buffalo’s streets – conditions inside homes are also difficult.
According to Hochul, some residents have remained in their homes for the past 56 hours, some without power in the bitter cold. The governor stated that this is not due to a lack of resources, but rather to a mobility and access challenge faced by utility companies.
According to Hochul, 94.5% of Erie County residents and 87% of Buffalo residents had power restored as of Sunday evening.
Still, 12,000 homes and businesses in Erie County were without power Sunday evening, and many will not have power or heat restored until Tuesday, according to Poloncarz.
According to the National Weather Service, Buffalo will continue to see snowfall and freezing temperatures on Monday, with a high of 23 degrees expected during the day and a low of 18 at night.
Several states suffer fatalities as a result of the storm.
The prolonged winter storm has blanketed a large swath of the United States with dangerously low temperatures and wind chills, as well as widespread power outages and thousands of canceled flights.
More than 10 million people in the South were under freeze warnings on Monday, including residents of Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Mobile, Montgomery, and Birmingham.
Temperatures in the teens and low 20s are expected across the affected areas, potentially killing crops and causing damage to plumbing. The majority of these warnings are set to expire Monday morning as temperatures begin to rise after the polar air has melted.
According to PowerOutage.US, approximately 90,000 customers were without power early Monday across the country. Since the storm’s inception, the number of outages has occasionally surpassed a million.
The storm also disrupted travel in the United States over the busy holiday weekend, with over 5,000 flights canceled on Friday, over 3,400 on Saturday, and over 3,100 on Christmas Day. According to flight tracking website FlightAware, more than 1,300 flights within, into, or out of the United States had already been canceled as of 5 a.m. ET Monday.
Several storm-related deaths have been reported across several states since the arrival of the severe weather. In addition to the deaths in New York, the following people were killed:
Colorado Springs police have reported two cold-related deaths since Thursday, with one man discovered near a power transformer of a building, possibly looking for warmth, and another in an alleyway camp.
– The Kansas Highway Patrol reported three deaths in weather-related traffic accidents on Friday.
– Kentucky: Three people have died in the state, according to officials, including one in a car accident in Montgomery County.
– Missouri: A person was killed after a caravan slid off an icy road and into a frozen creek, according to Kansas City police.
– Ohio: Nine people were killed in weather-related car accidents, including four on Interstate 75 on Saturday morning when a semi tractor-trailer crossed the median and collided with an SUV and a pickup, according to authorities.
– Tennessee: The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed one storm-related death on Friday.
– Wisconsin State Patrol reported one fatal crash due to winter weather on Thursday.
What to expect as the storm passes
The powerful system that caused blizzards and winter weather warnings is still moving away from the Northeast, but many cities and towns are still blanketed in snow. Baraga, Michigan received 42.8 inches of snow in a 24-hour period, while Watertown, New York received 34.2 inches.
According to the National Weather Service, Grand Rapids, Michigan, received a record 10.5 inches of snow on Christmas Eve.
Winter storm warnings for Buffalo, Jamestown, and Watertown remain in effect in New York and will expire over the next few days. According to forecasts, Jamestown could get another 8 inches of snow, Buffalo could get 14 inches, and Watertown could get 3 feet. Wind gusts of up to 40 mph are also possible.
Lake effect snow warnings remain in effect north of Jamestown until 10 a.m. EST Tuesday, with accumulations of up to 18 inches possible.
According to the National Weather Service, lingering lake-effect snows blowing downwind from the Great Lakes will gradually diminish, but the Arctic air enveloping much of the eastern half of the country will be slow to moderate.
Lake-effect snows will continue to make travel hazardous for the next few days, but conditions are expected to gradually improve over the next week.
The low-pressure system is expected to move further north into Canada, while another system is expected to sweep across the northern United States on Monday, bringing snow from the northern Plains to the Midwest.
Forecasters predict that much of the rest of the country will remain in a deep freeze through Monday before beginning to warm up on Tuesday.
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