Deadly Buffalo Storm: Winter weather leaves at least 52 dead nationwide as New York residents remain trapped under snow feet

BUFFALO, NY– As a massive winter storm continues to ravage much of the U.S. with brutal winter weather — resulting in at least 52 deaths nationwide — parts of western New York were buried by up to 43 inches of snow, causing vehicles to become stuck and starving thousands during the Christmas weekend .

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told CNN the storm was the “most devastating storm in Buffalo’s long history.” The heavy snowfall and snowstorm left roads impassable, frozen substations and killed at least 17 people across the state as of Sunday night.

Western New York is drowning in thick “lake effect” snow, created when cold air sweeps across the warm waters of the Great Lakes – just a month after the region was hit by a historic snowstorm.

As rescue teams and hundreds of plow drivers swarmed out on Christmas Day, even rescue and recovery vehicles sent to help got stuck in the snow. Eleven ambulances that had to be abandoned were dug up on Sunday, officials said.

“The rescue team rescued rescuers … it was so horrible,” Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said during a news conference Sunday. Many of New York’s weather-related deaths occurred in Erie County, where some people were found dead in cars and on the road in snow banks, he said.

Deaths reported in Buffalo “are people found outside and in cars,” according to a Buffalo Police Department statement.

Hundreds of National Guardsmen were deployed to help with the New York rescue effort. State police were involved in more than 500 rescues as of Sunday, including delivering a baby and helping a man with 4% rest on his mechanical heart, the governor said.

“We are still in the midst of this very dangerous, life-threatening situation,” Hochul said, urging residents to stay off the roads as Erie County has a driving ban in place through Monday.

“Our state and county plows have been out there, non-stop, giving up time and putting themselves in danger, driving through blinding blizzards to clear the roads,” Hochul said.

As blistering snowstorms swept across the region, about 500 motorists found themselves stuck in their vehicles from Friday night through Saturday morning, according to Poloncarz, who described scary road conditions.

“Think of staring at a white space a few feet in front of you for more than 24 hours straight. That’s how it was outside in the worst conditions,” he said. “It was a constant snowstorm and power cuts so no one could see where they were going. Nobody had any idea what was happening.”

While abandoned vehicles line the snow-covered streets — with hundreds of cars still on Buffalo’s streets — conditions are difficult indoors, too.

Some residents have remained in their homes for the past 56 hours, some without power in the freezing cold, Hochul said during the press conference. This was not due to a lack of resources, the governor said, but rather a mobility and access challenge faced by utility companies.

As of Sunday evening, power was restored to 94.5% of Erie County residents and 87% of Buffalo residents, Hochul said.

Even so, 12,000 homes and businesses in Erie County were without power as of Sunday night, and many will have no lights or heat through Tuesday, Poloncarz said.

Buffalo will continue to experience snowfall and freezing temperatures Monday, with a daytime high of 23 degrees and a nighttime low of 18 degrees expected, according to the National Weather Service.

Storm leads to loss of life in several states

For the past week, the ongoing winter storm has blanketed much of the US with dangerously low temperatures and wind chills, also bringing widespread power outages and thousands of canceled flights.

More than 10 million people were on frost alert in the South Monday, including residents in Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham.

Freezing temperatures where temperatures will hover in the teens and low 20s are expected in affected areas, potentially killing crops and damaging pipelines. Most of these warnings will expire Monday morning when temperatures finally recover from the polar air.

Around 90,000 customers nationwide were without electricity early Monday PowerOutage.US. Since the storm began, the number of outages has at times exceeded one million customers.

The storm also disrupted US travel during the busy holiday weekend, with more than 5,000 canceled flights on Friday, more than 3,400 canceled on Saturday and more than 3,100 canceled for Christmas Day. More than 1,300 flights within, to or from the United States were canceled as early as 5 a.m. ET Monday, according to the tracking site FlightAware.

Multiple storm-related deaths have been reported in several states since the brutal weather arrived. In addition to the deaths in New York, the fatalities include:

  • Colorado: Police in Colorado Springs, Colorado, have reported two cold-related deaths since Thursday, with a man found near a building’s power transformer who may have been searching for heat, and another at a warehouse in an alley.
  • Kansas: Three people died in weather-related traffic accidents, the Kansas Highway Patrol said on Friday.
  • Kentucky: Three people have died in the state, officials said, including one in a vehicle accident in Montgomery County.
  • Missouri: One person died after a trailer rolled off an icy road into a frozen creek, Kansas City Police Department said.
  • Ohio: Nine people have died as a result of weather-related car accidents, including four in a crash Saturday morning on Interstate 75 when a tractor-trailer truck crossed the median and collided with an SUV and a pickup truck, authorities said.
  • Tennessee: The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed one storm-related death on Friday.
  • Wisconsin: The Wisconsin State Patrol reported one fatal accident Thursday due to winter weather.

What to expect when the storm clears

The powerful system that brought snowstorm and winter weather warnings continues to recede from the northeast, but many cities and towns remain blanketed in thick snow. Over a 24-hour period, Baraga, Michigan received 42.8 inches of snow while Watertown, New York received 34.2 inches.

Grand Rapids, Michigan had its snowiest Christmas Eve ever, receiving a record 10.5 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Winter storm warnings remain in effect in New York for Buffalo, Jamestown and Watertown and will expire in the following days. Forecasts show Jamestown could see an additional 8 inches of snow, Buffalo could see an additional 14 inches, and Watertown could see an additional 3 feet. Winds can also get up to 40 km/h.

Lake effect snow warnings remain north of Jamestown through 10 a.m. EST Tuesday, an area where up to 18 inches is possible.

Persistent lake-effect snow blowing downwind from the Great Lakes is slowly becoming less intense, but the Arctic air blanketing much of the nation’s eastern half will be slow to moderate, according to the National Weather Service.

Lake effect snow will continue to make for dangerous travel conditions over the next few days and conditions are expected to slowly improve as the week progresses.

The low system is forecast to move further into Canada, while another system will move quickly across the northern US through Monday, bringing snow from the northern plains through the Midwest.

Much of the rest of the eastern part of the country will remain frozen through Monday, before starting a weakening trend on Tuesday, forecasters said.

ABC News contributed to this report.

The CNN Wire & 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved. Deadly Buffalo Storm: Winter weather leaves at least 52 dead nationwide as New York residents remain trapped under snow feet

Laura Coffey

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