(CNN) — A historic snowstorm is slamming western New York state Saturday with over 6 feet of snow in some places, closing roads, triggering driving bans and canceling flights the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Extreme snowfall “will produce near zero visibility, very difficult to impossible travel, damage to infrastructure, and may paralyze the hardest-hit communities,” the Weather Prediction Center said Saturday morning.
Snowfall totals of over 6 feet have been recorded in two locations, according to the National Weather Service. Orchard Park, where the NFL’s Buffalo Bills play, has picked up 77.0 inches in the last 48 hours, and Natural Bridge, just east of Watertown, has picked up 72.3 inches — historic numbers for the area.
As the snowfall intensified, two county residents died from cardiac complications related to shoveling and attempting to clear the grounds, said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
“We send our deepest sympathies and remind all that this snow is very heavy and dangerous,” Poloncarz said. “Please continue to avoid shoveling this very heavy, wet snow – and use caution and avoid overexertion if you must shovel today.”
Winter weather alerts are still in effect for over 6 million people across six Great Lakes states Saturday morning — Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Forecasters and officials have been sounding the alarm on the life-threatening nature of this snowstorm, which is historic even for the Buffalo region where heavy snow is the norm during winter months. And the forceful snowfall is expected to continue through the weekend with little periods of relief.
Areas northeast of Lake Ontario — from central Jefferson County to northern Lewis County — were inundated with heavy snow late Friday, when the snowfall rate was up to 3 inches per hour, according to the weather service in Buffalo. Places between Watertown and Harrisville were also seeing treacherous conditions.
A state of emergency remains in effect, and Dan Neaverth Jr., Homeland Security Commissioner for Erie County, said he did not expect travel restrictions to go away any time soon.
“It’s Saturday. There’s absolutely no reason to be out there today,” he advised.
Dozens of flights arriving and departing from Buffalo Niagara International Airport were canceled as storm conditions worsened, according to the airport’s website.
This month is already Buffalo’s third snowiest November at the airport thanks to the storm, according to the local weather service.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told CNN on Saturday that, while his city is used to heavy snow, this is “much more than we usually get.”
He said the city could return to “some sense of normalcy” by Monday or Tuesday, assuming the worst of the storm passes through by Sunday.
“This has been a very unpredictable storm with the snow bands moving, back and forth, north to south,” Brown said. “The snow has come down very fast, very wet, very heavy.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Saturday she’s from Hamburg, just south of Buffalo.
“But even with that history, in that context, this is one for the record books,” she told CNN. “The most amount of snow to fall in the 24-hour period probably in state history. We will have the actual numbers soon.”
County official: Do not ignore travel bans
The colossal storm has been pounding the region for days, prompting local and state officials to issue states of emergencies to bolster response. But with a storm that big, it only takes one or two vehicles to slow down clearing operations, Poloncarz noted.
“A reminder to all employers: if your business is located in a driving ban area or your employees are currently in a driving ban area, it is illegal to make them come into work,” Poloncarz said online.
The snowstorm, which came with a forecast for the Buffalo region not seen in more than 20 years, has been making travel miserable for many drivers, despite authorities’ emphasis on staying off the roads.
“I can say that our deputies have been just absolutely inundated with calls for service as it pertains to disabled motor vehicles and stranded motorists,” Erie County Undersheriff William J. Cooley said during a news conference Friday night. “We implore the residents to just, please, obey the travel ban, you become part of the problem very quickly when you’re out there on the streets.”
Erie County issued a combination of travel bans and travel advisories Friday, including a travel ban for the southern portion of Buffalo.
More than 300 citations were issued to drivers who violated the travel ban, Poloncarz said late Friday.
“Please, do not be the reason that an ambulance cannot get to the hospital,” he said. “There are many vehicles that are not only getting stuck but are just being abandoned by the owners.”
Snow has been falling for an extended period of time at a rapid pace, making it difficult for crews to respond.
“In some cases, we are going to far surpass 5 feet of snow and that’s in a 21-hour period of time,” said Bill Geary, the county’s public works commissioner. “It’s a remarkable amount of time.”
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