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Snowstorm the biggest in a decade

Snowstorm the biggest in a decade

Storm dumped 17 inches in Albany
Snowstorm the biggest in a decade
Mike Ganey clears his car for the second time on Schenectady's Green Street on Tuesday, March 14, 2017.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

CAPITAL REGION -- The nor'easter that brought all-day snowfall that finally wound down around midnight Tuesday was the biggest to hit the Capital Region in a decade, dropping 17 inches at Albany International Airport -- but twice as much in corners of Schoharie County and the western Mohawk Valley.

As municipal plowing crews and private contractors on Wednesday continued a cleanup that may last into Thursday -- and residents unlucky enough to leave their cars outside dug out -- the National Weather Service identified Tuesday's storm as the sixth-heaviest March storm ever recorded in Albany and a new record for the date, by more than 4 inches.

The storm's fast-paced snowfall brought slippery road conditions that prompted communities across the region to impose emergency travel bans that generally ended Wednesday. Many local government offices took the highly unusual step of never opening on Tuesday -- or if they did open, sending employees home early, as the storm worsened.

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There were no major injuries reported, and few accidents, as motorists generally heeded calls to stay off the roads. A ban that was imposed Tuesday on semitrailers on the Northway and state Thruway was not lifted until late Wednesday afternoon.

The vast volume of snow was a shock for residents who have grown used to milder winters, including much of this winter. There was a 12-inch storm on Feb. 9, but record-breaking warmth followed, and most the of the Capital Region had bare ground when the latest storm hit early Tuesday morning. Still, it was a historic storm.

"The last time we had this much snow was Feb. 13-14, 2007, when we had 16.8 inches at the airport," said National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Wasula.

A storm on Dec. 6-7, 2003, which left 18 inches at the airport, was the last storm to clearly surpass the near-blizzard that just hit the area. The previous record for March 14 was 12.9 inches, set in 1958.

Most of the Capital Region was under a blizzard warning heading into the storm, but Wasula said the Weather Service is still assessing whether any areas actually experienced blizzard conditions: heavy snow and sustained winds of 35 mph or more for three consecutive hours.

But even if the wind wasn't blowing as hard as predicted, the snow was coming far faster than original expectations about the storm, a nor'easter felt from Washington, D.C., to the Canadian Maritimes. Nor'easters occur when cold storm systems from the west collide with warm air moving north in the Atlantic Ocean. This one hit central New York and the Southern Tier hard, too, as well as New England.

Often, the heaviest storms occur in March.

It's the seasonality where the two air masses are clashing -- winter and spring," Wasula said.

In Schenectady County, there were reports of 24 inches of snow accumulation in Duanesburg and Delanson, and 19.5 inches in the city of Schenectady. But Schoharie County was the prize-winner, with 34 inches of new snow reported in Jefferson and 33 inches in Richmondville. West Winfield, in Herkimer County, recorded the apparent highest total, at 42 inches. Much of the Adirondacks also got three feet or more, according to the state state Department of Environmental Conservation.

In Schenectady, unofficial data showed that 20 GPS-equipped city snowplows traveled about 2,700 miles, or roughly the distance from New York City to Los Angeles, said Antonio Civitella, CEO of Transfinder, which provided the GPS technology. The city has 108 miles of road.

That data does not include privately contracted snowplows used by the city.

Schoharie County officials are counting themselves lucky there were no human injuries, and only one cow died, in one of two barn collapses caused by heavy snow.

"There were actually a lot of state of emergencies placed, and the reason we had to do that is that the roads really were treacherous," said Colleen Flynn, the county's emergency management coordinator. "A lot of times, the county plows couldn't see in front of them. One county plow truck rolled over."

There were also barn collapses in Middleburgh and Cobleskill, but Flynn said only one cow died in those incidents, though each had more than 100 animals inside.

"People should be aware that when buildings are built, they're not built to hold three feet of snow," Flynn said.

Wasula said Schoharie County got hit hard just because of the pattern the snow followed.

"We had heavier snow bands that moved to our south and southwest, where they lingered for a couple of hours and at times were dumping 5 or 6 inches per hour," he said.

Albany International Airport was basically shut down by the storm, with most major airlines preemptively canceling flight schedules for Tuesday. One runway was kept open for emergency and local traffic.

Regular service resumed Wednesday afternoon, though travelers were being advised of possible delays if they were traveling to other northeastern airports.

Saratoga County plow crews continued working Wednesday afternoon, having had only a few hours of break time since 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, said county Department of Public Works Commissioner Keith Manz.

"We're still out there, mostly because of the wind, but even where there are no winds we're pushing back banks, and where we're not down to bare road, we're hitting them again with salt," Manz said. "They're doing snowdrifts and places where people are pushing snow out into the road."

The storm will probably cost the county about $100,000, Manz said. Those costs include around $70,000 in salt, plus overtime costs and diesel fuel. The county budgets to spend about $1.2 million on salt, so Manz said the county road budget is still okay.

The state Department of Transportation had all 170 plows out in Region 1, and officials there said they appreciated the cooperation of people who stayed off the roads.

Schenectady County also had success with a travel ban imposed starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday and lifted Wednesday morning.

"Our road crews were able to keep ahead of the storm, for the most part," said county spokesman Joe McQueen. "People for the most part heeded the travel ban. It helped the crews, although the reason for it was mostly for safety."

There are no more big storms on the horizon, though another taste of winter -- but just a taste -- lies ahead.

The weather service is predicting a 1- or 2-inch snowstorm that could turn to rain for late Saturday into Sunday.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Gazette reporter Brett Samuels contributed to this report

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