Western New York gets buried under 6 feet of snow in some areas
Residents in western New York got even more snow Saturday after a major winter storm walloped the region Friday, dropping a total of more than 6 feet in some areas and shutting down schools and businesses.
The National Weather Service said snow was falling in parts of Niagara County at a rate of two to three inches per hour on Saturday afternoon.
"You can't go anywhere," Liz Jurkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo, said on Saturday. "Major roads are closed right now because they're covered with snow. Basically, everyone here is just trying to dig out themselves."
Jurkowski called the whopping 6 feet of snow one of the top three heaviest snowfalls in recorded history for the Buffalo region. It hasn't received this amount of snow since 2014.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Saturday that it could be the most snowfall in a 24-hour period in New York's history. She said she had deployed 150 National Guard and that she was requesting a federal emergency declaration.
At least two people died from cardiac arrest while shoveling snow.
The NWS said wind gusts could reach up to 36 mph. The agency also said a lake-effect snow warning would be in effect until 1 p.m. ET on Sunday in Northern Erie and Genesee counties, saying that travel could be "very difficult to impossible."
Buffalo set a record for daily snowfall by Saturday morning, accumulating 16.1 inches by about 9:30 a.m.
The weather agency reported some towns in Erie County had received more than 5 feet of snow on Friday. Further north in the state, some parts of Jefferson County got nearly 50 inches on Friday.
The following day, areas of the state east of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario recorded totals of more than 6 feet.
In Hamburg, south of Buffalo, emergency crews struggled to reach people on Friday, WBFO's Emyle Watkins told NPR. Other towns in the area had not been hit nearly as badly, with some areas north of Buffalo getting just inches.
Crews were working around the clock to clear the the wet, heavy snow that was falling at a faster rate than normal.
John Pilato, the highway superintendent for the town of Lancaster, said he was trying to keep his snow crews fed and rested while they camp out at the highway department.
"Bought as much food and grub that we could just to have on hand for these guys. We bought a bunch of K-cups so we could keep them a little bit caffeinated and fueled up," Pilato told Watkins. "It's hard, it's very hard. They're not in their own bed, they're in a chair, or they're in a cot."
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday declared a state of emergency that covered 11 counties in the western part of the state. That included a number of travel bans on local interstates and roads.
Schools in Buffalo and around Erie County canceled classes Friday, while Amtrak shut down stations in the area.
The NFL also announced Thursday that a Buffalo Bills home game scheduled for this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns has been moved to Detroit in a decision that "has everything to do about safety," Bills Executive Vice President Ron Raccuia said to ESPN.
Kyra Laurie, a college student who became stranded at her parent's house south of Buffalo in Orchard Park that got several feet of snow, told Watkins she's having a good time with her family, but said this storm caught her by surprise.
"Being from Buffalo, you just assume that you'll make it, that you can truck through any kind of snowstorm, but I feel like this one's been really aggressive," Laurie said.
The heavy snow is caused by the lake effect
The region is being pummeled by lake-effect snow, which occurs when cold air passes over a relatively warm body of water, picking up a lot of moisture and dropping it over land. Areas near lakes can experience snowfall rates up to 3 inches an hour or more.
Colin Beier, an associate professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, told NPR the the difference between lake and air temperatures in the area is highest until spring.
"It doesn't surprise me that with that big shift to cold air, you still got a warm lake, if it's pointed right at a big city like Buffalo or anywhere it's pointed you're going to get very a significant amount of snow right now," Beier said.
The post contains reporting from WBFO's Emyle Watkins, WBFO's Dave Debo and WRVO's Ava Pukatch and The Associated Press.