Buffalo, New York (AP) — A dangerous lake ice storm lashed parts of western and northern New York on Friday, submerging more than 4 feet in some places, and more rain was expected Saturday night. The storm was attributed to the deaths of two people who were injured while clearing snow.
The intensity of the storms varied greatly due to the characteristics of lake-effect storms, which are caused by freezing winds that pick up moisture from warmer lakes and dump snow in narrow bands.
Residents in parts of Buffalo spent Friday suffering heavy snow showers, punctuated by the occasional thunderclap, while a few miles north only a few inches fell and there were patches of blue sky.
The largest snowfall occurred south of the city. The National Weather Service reported totals of 3 feet (1 m) in one day in several locations along the eastern end of Lake Erie, with torrential rain bands up to 66 inches (168 cm) in the suburbs from Buffalo in Orchard Park, 48 inches ( 122 cm) in Elma and more than 3 feet in Hamburg, as rescue teams were called in to help a resident whose house collapsed under the weight.
Schools are closed. Amtrak stations in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Debbie were closed Thursday and Friday. Several flights to and from Buffalo Niagara International Airport have been canceled.
Erie County Executive Mark Polonsars said the storm was the cause of two deaths, tweeting that they were “related to stress-related cardiac events while shoveling/blowing snow.”
“We send our deepest condolences and remind everyone that this snow is very heavy and dangerous,” he said.
Even on Friday afternoon, AAA tow truck drivers were struggling to reach dozens of stranded drivers who had defied warnings and travel bans, said Elizabeth Carey, a spokeswoman for the association.
AAA crews were trying to reach people who were calling saying they had broken down, been stranded, or run off the road in their car. … A lot of our tow truck drivers kept calling saying the police had turned me away. In some cases, tow trucks follow, she said. and scrambled behind the trucks to give way, AAA relayed the positions of the other drivers to the police.
Before it even started to snow, the NFL announced that it will move the Buffalo Bills’ home game against the Cleveland Browns from the team’s stadium to Detroit’s Orchard Park on Sunday.
A day later, the Bills posted on Twitter photos from Highmark Stadium showing the stadium and nearly 60,000-plus seats buried in snow, and forecasters warned of one or more kicks by Sunday.
West Seneca’s Scott Fleetwood captured video of the lock smashing in front of his house overnight, as well as snow quickly burying the pumpkins on his porch.
“The sky is white. … everything is white. The only thing you can really see is the house opposite,” he said.
“My tiki bar is now an igloo,” he added.
Zaria Black of Buffalo cleared her car several inches Friday morning as she got ready to go to work. The Amazon employee expected to be away most of the day and was nervous about the state of the road.
“At the moment it looks really bad,” she said.
With many cars stranded and abandoned, Mayor Byron Brown urged people to stay off the hard-hit South Buffalo roads as more city and private plows were deployed.
“When you’re snowing between 3 and 4.5 inches an hour, you can’t beat it,” he warned drivers at a news conference. “You will get stuck.”
On the other hand, the streets of Downtown and North Buffalo were cleared, but were clear of traffic on Friday afternoon. Buffalo-based David Munschauer was well aware of the starkly contrasting scenes on his tour.
He said: “I am 68 years old, and I have lived in this city probably 60 out of 68, which still amazes me.”
Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency Thursday for parts of western New York, including communities along the eastern shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The proclamation covers 11 counties, with all vehicles banned from the stretch of Interstate 90.
“I am very proud of the people of Western New York for answering our call to stay off the roads last night; as a result, we got rid of the salt, were able to clean up the roads better than we would if they were filled with traffic, and actually avoided a significant number of accidents.”
Catholic Health, which runs several health facilities in the stormy area, has been preparing for days.
“Our staff has really evolved, and people are doing everything they can to get where they can. Some helpers are staying overnight,” said spokeswoman Joan Kavanaugh.
Heavy snow accumulations have also been reported in upstate New York, on the eastern edge of Lake Ontario, and parts of northern Michigan. Parts of Pennsylvania also experienced lake effect snow accumulations.
The National Weather Service reported Friday that Fort Drum, New York, near Lake Ontario, saw 42 inches.
In southwest Michigan, state police reported a collision of between 20 and 25 vehicles involving 131 Americans in Kalamazoo County. No serious injuries were reported.
“The roads are still icy and snowy and we have to slow down,” police said on Twitter.
Buffalo has experienced dramatic snowstorms affecting the lake, which were slightly worse than the one that hit in November 2014. This epic storm dumped seven feet (two meters) of snow in some communities over the course of three days, causing roofs to collapse. Motorists trapped in more than 100 cars along New York State’s Lake Thruway.
Registered nurse Mary Ann Murphy recalled walking to Mercy Hospital, her husband Steve by her side, during a storm in 2014. It made the memory especially happy that she was able to drive to work on Friday, despite two feet of snow.
“I shot him in the street with my little SUV,” said Murphy, who lives about a mile from the Buffalo hospital. “I was glad I didn’t have to walk.”
Friday’s snowfall also reminded Bruce Leader of the 2014 storm, nicknamed “Snow Vimper,” which, like this week’s storm, also left parts of the area buried while others only saw a few centimeters.
He said of the 2014 event: “I would go back and forth to work in Niagara County scratching my head, like, What’s this big bang all about?”
Associated Press reporters Alena Hartonian in Phoenix, John Wau in Buffalo, and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.