Early winter pummels country, strands cars

The wintry blast that included bitter cold in spots created havoc across a wide swath of the country
Lauren Hansen shovels snow off her porch as her dog Kapone stands by, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Lauren Hansen shovels snow off her porch as her dog Kapone stands by, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, in Grand Rapids, Mich.

5 Things to Know About Buffalo-area storm

1. HEAVY SNOW: By late afternoon, 51 inches had fallen in the suburb of Cheektowaga.

2. POWERFUL WINDS: Wind gusts were clocked as high as 38 mph, severely reducing visibility.

3. THRUWAY CLOSED: A 132-mile stretch of the state Thruway from Exit 46 in Rochester to Exit 61 in Ripley, near the Pennsylvania line

4. LIFE GOES ON: The localized nature of the storm largely spared downtown Buffalo, allowing the Sabres to host the San Jose Sharks, as scheduled. Fans unable to make it in were invited to trade in tickets for another game.

5. MORE TO COME: Authorities say snow totals by Wednesday afternoon could top 6 feet in the hardest-hit areas south of Buffalo. Another lake-effect storm is expected Thursday.

Several feet of lake-effect snow paralyzed the Buffalo area Tuesday, forcing state troopers to deliver blankets and other supplies to motorists stranded on the New York State Thruway and adding an ominous note to a wintry season that’s already snarling travel and numbing fingers from the Midwest to the Carolinas.

In a region accustomed to regular highway-choking, school-closing snowstorms, this one is being called one of the worst in recent memory. The snow blown by strong winds forced the closure of a 132-mile stretch of the Thruway, the main highway across New York state, where state police said dozens of motorists were stranded.

Troopers used all-terrain vehicles to deliver supplies, state police Capt. Ed Kennedy said. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said about 140 motorists were stranded. Many chose to stay with their cars, while others left them, he said.

“Other than wishing they weren’t stuck in traffic, they’re warm and safe in their vehicles,” Kennedy said.

The wintry blast that included bitter cold in spots created havoc across a wide swath of the country. In New Hampshire and elsewhere, icy roads led to accidents. Lake-effect storms in Michigan produced gale-force winds and as much as 18 inches of snow and canceled several flights at the Grand Rapids airport.

Schools closed in the North Carolina mountains amid blustery winds and ice-coated roads. In Indiana, three firefighters were hurt when a semitrailer hit a fire truck on a snowy highway.

In Buffalo, Brian Krzeminski watched the snow pile up outside the south Buffalo convenience store where he worked overnight and served free coffee to the motorists and pedestrians who came in off the city streets to get out of the blinding snow.

“There are people that came out to get a few things. We had some people who came in just to get a 30-pack of beer, which is kind of odd,” he said. “We’ve had EMTs whose ambulance got stuck. I’m constantly seeing cars get stuck.”

The National Weather Service warned that the snow, generated by cold air blowing over the warmer Great Lakes, would continue through Wednesday and could eventually total 6 feet in places.

“We have tried to get out of our house, and we are lucky to be able to shovel so we can open the door. Basically, that’s it, open the door,” said Linda Oakley of Buffalo. “We’re just thinking that in case of an emergency we can at least get out the door. We can’t go any further.”

“All around us, it’s a solid four feet of snow that is so thick and so heavy you can hardly move it with a shovel,” said Oakley, whose son Todd was with her, unable to make it to work just three miles away.

Jim Lehmann was hunkering down at home with his wife in Hamburg. His neighbor’s house was barely visible through the blowing snow.

“The main thing to do now is sit in the house and wait it out,” Lehmann said. “My neighbor works for a satellite dish company and he tried to get out this morning and he got stuck 80 feet down the street. And he was there for three hours.”

The town of West Seneca recorded 45 inches by late morning and Alden, to the east, had 48 inches. But typical of lake-effect snow, areas just a few miles away, including downtown and north Buffalo, had just a couple of inches.

At one point, nearly half of West Seneca’s plows were bogged down in heavy snow, officials told The Buffalo News. In neighboring Orchard Park, the highway superintendent called the rate of snowfall “unbelievable,” while next door in Hamburg police cars were getting stuck.

Oakley and her son, Todd, were passing the time watching “Dumb and Dumber” on Netflix.

“We can’t even walk down to the end of the street and get ourselves a pizza,” she said, laughing. “Maybe if you had snow shoes, I don’t know.”

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