More snow is expected in parts of western New York already buried by what officials area calling a “once in a generation” winter storm. The deep freeze in the eastern U.S. will continue until more moderate temperatures arrive Wednesday, forecasters say, as residents in the Buffalo area deal with massive snow drifts that snarled emergency vehicles and trapped some residents in their homes or cars. Travelers across the country continue grappling with canceled flights and dangerous roads.
The death toll from the massive storm has risen to least 53 people across the United States.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday afternoon that President Joe Biden had promised to “swiftly approve my request for a federal emergency disaster declaration” for hard-hit Western New York, which includes Buffalo.
The extreme weather stretched from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. About 60% of the U.S. population faced some sort of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures plummeted drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians.
“Lake effect snow will continue through Tuesday northeast of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario,” the National Weather Service said Monday morning. “Additional accumulations of 6 to 12 inches are expected off Lake Erie in and near Buffalo, and 1 to 2 feet for Jefferson and northern Lewis counties.”
That’s especially unwelcome news for Buffalo, which saw hurricane-force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions that paralyzed emergency response efforts and took at least 14 lives in the city, Mayor Byron Brown’s office said Monday morning.
Across Erie County, where Buffalo is located, at least 25 people have died, County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a briefing Monday.
Hochul, who called out the National Guard, said almost every fire truck in Buffalo was stranded Saturday and implored people Sunday to respect an ongoing driving ban in the region. Officials said the airport would be shut through Tuesday morning.
Huge snowdrifts nearly covered cars and there were thousands of houses, some adorned in unlit holiday displays, dark from a lack of power.
With snow swirling down untouched and impassable streets, forecasters warned an additional 1 to 2 feet of snow was possible in some areas through Monday morning amid wind gusts of 40 mph. Police said Sunday evening that there were two “isolated” instances of looting during the storm.
Two people died in their suburban Cheektowaga, New York, homes Friday when emergency crews couldn’t reach them in time to treat their medical conditions. Others suffered cardiac arrest while shoveling or snow-blowing, Poloncarz said, warning people with heart conditions to avoid shoveling. He urged people to stay off the roads and said it was likely the toll from the storm would still rise.
“Some were found in cars, some were found on the street in snowbanks,” Poloncarz said. “We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than two days.”
A state of emergency remains in place for all of Erie County on Monday.
Freezing conditions and power outages had Buffalo residents scrambling to get to anywhere with heat amid what Hochul called the longest sustained blizzard conditions ever in the city. But with streets under a thick blanket of white, that wasn’t an option for people like Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in his parked car after almost 29 hours without electricity.
“There’s one warming shelter, but that would be too far for me to get to. I can’t drive, obviously, because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t be outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbit.”
Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ontario, for Christmas with his daughters Friday when their SUV was trapped in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the engine running, buffeted by wind and nearly buried in snow.
By 4 a.m. Saturday, their fuel nearly gone, Ilunga made a desperate choice to risk the howling storm to reach a nearby shelter. He carried 6-year-old Destiny on his back while 16-year-old Cindy clutched their Pomeranian puppy, following his footprints through drifts.
“If I stay in this car I’m going to die here with my kids,” Ilunga recalled thinking. He cried when the family walked through the shelter doors. “It’s something I will never forget in my life.”
Travelers’ weather woes continued, with hundreds of flight cancellations already and more expected after the— when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — developed near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow.
Another 2,700 U.S, flights were canceled as of midday Monday, according to FlightAware.com.
The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. But heat and lights were steadily being restored across the U.S. According to poweroutage.us, some 59,000 customers across the country were without power as of 6 a.m. ET Monday — down from a peak of 1.7 million. Most of those still experiencing blackouts were in Maine and New York state.
Concerns about rolling blackouts across eastern states subsided Sunday after PJM Interconnection said its utilities could meet the day’s peak electricity demand. The mid-Atlantic grid operator had called for its 65 million consumers to conserve energy amid the freeze Saturday.
Storm-related deaths were reported in recent days all over the country, including a 27-year-old man in Niagara County, New York, who was overcome by carbon monoxide after snow blocked his furnace; 10 dead in Ohio, including a utility worker who was electrocuted and several people killed in multiple car crashes; six motorists killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky; a Vermont woman struck by a falling branch; an apparently homeless man found amid Colorado’s subzero temperatures; and a woman who fell through Wisconsin river ice.
Cold weather extended deep into the South, and officials inon Christmas Day that residents must now boil their drinking water due to water lines bursting in the frigid temperatures.