Blizzard hits western New York, restricting travel ahead of Thanksgiving

November 19 (Reuters) – Snowfalls of more than 6 feet in western New York state on Saturday prompted local officials to further restrict road traffic and forced airlines to cancel flights in the Buffalo area ahead of the busy Thanksgiving holiday week.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called in the National Guard and dispatched about 150 members to help with snow removal and the needs of residents in the hardest-hit parts of Erie County.

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

Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said most residents obeyed driving bans and stayed home, which he says averted tragedy.

“We have avoided many incidents and accidents that have unfortunately claimed lives in the past,” he said at the news event in Hamburg, NY, one of the hardest hit areas by the snow. “I believe lives were saved.”

Erie County, which felt the brunt of the snowfall, recorded overall heights of 77 inches at Orchard Park, New York, site of the Buffalo Bills’ NFL home stadium.

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

Conditions could continue into Monday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Nearly 90 accidents were reported and nearly 290 people were rescued from roads, Hochul said.

“We have some passenger vehicles that have been abandoned,” she said. “They’re being treated, but the magnitude is nowhere near what we’ve seen in storms in the past.”

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

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

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

“This was a very unpredictable storm with the snow bands moving back and forth from north to south,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told CNN. “The snow came down very quickly, very wet, very heavy.”

Buffalo saw record daily snowfall of more than 16 inches, surpassing the 2014 daily record of 7.6 inches, the National Weather Service said 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.

District officials warned people to stay off the roads to reserve for snow removal crews. Poloncarz said some communities could see driving bans lifted later by Saturday night.

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

The US National Weather Service is forecasting up to 14 inches of lake-effect snow in Chautaqua and Cattaraugus counties Saturday night through Sunday. Snow bands are expected to bring up to 2 feet of snow across Oswego and Lewis counties beginning Sunday morning.

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

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

Reporting by Tyler Clifford; Adaptation by Diane Craft and Nick Zieminski

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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