Buffalo death toll rises to 34; warming rates

Buffalo death toll rises to 34;  warming rates

The the worst winter weather on record is likely behind western New York as temperatures are forecast to rise Wednesday and allow the region to thaw, a trend forecasters say will spread across large parts of the U.S.

But community members were still reeling from the storm’s devastating effects this week. The death toll in Erie County, where Buffalo is located – the area hardest hit by the storm – rose to 34, officials confirmed Update Wednesday morning.

Along with burying the city with more than 50 inches of snow since Christmas Evethe storm brought freezing temperatures and extreme winds — with gusts measured at times over 70 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.

Those conditions were expected to dissipate Wednesday as temperatures climb into the 40s and 50s next week. A little rain was in the forecast, which along with the melting snow it might bring possible flooding.

“It looks like the worst may be behind them,” Brian Thompson, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, told USA TODAY.

Conditions in the U.S. are also expected to warm, with some areas, including the Midwest, seeing temperatures 10 to 20 degrees above average, Thompson said.

Meanwhile in the West, the National Weather Service said Wednesday morning that an active and powerful wet system is expected to hit the western half of the country over the coming days of the week – with forecasts for moderate to heavy rain, mountain snow and potential flooding risks.

More weather news from USA TODAY:

The death toll in Erie County rose to 34 on Wednesday, officials confirmed in a morning update. Three of the dead remain unidentified.

The county faces the possibility of finding more victims in the coming days. On Wednesday, the National Guard went door-to-door in parts of Buffalo and its suburbs to check on people who had lost power. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said officials “fear there are (more) people who may have died” during the storm.

“I offer my deepest condolences and sympathies to the people who have lost loved ones,” Poloncarz said Wednesday. “I understand that every time the Christmas season comes, people will remember the storm and the death of a loved one. And the stories are just heartbreaking. Just heartbreaking.”

Poloncarz pointed to the death of a man who went out in the storm “to get food and provisions for his pregnant wife who was about to give birth… (but) was unable to return home.” Buffalo News reported that the manidentified as Abdul Sharifou, 26, was found dead outside on Saturday.

Sharifou’s cousin, Ali Sharifou, told the publication that Abdul Sharifou is working on buying a home for his family and “is so excited to be a father.”

of Buffalo driving ban remained in effect Wednesday to keep people off snow-clogged roads, Poloncarz confirmed on Twitter and in the county update Wednesday morning. The rest of Erie County was under a driving advisory.

State and military police were dispatched Tuesday to help enforce the driving ban. Although some suburban roads and most major highways in the area have reopened, Poloncarz said Tuesday that police will be stationed at Buffalo’s entrances and at major intersections as some drivers ignore the ban.

Atmospheric rivers drenched the West Coast and Rockies with heavy rain, winds and snow all week, experts say, leaving 11 states in the West under weather warnings Wednesday.

The National Weather Service said Wednesday morning that the West can expect rain and mountain snow over the next few days. The region, especially parts of southern and central California, could also see some scattered flash flooding, “with the highest chances for rapid runoff and debris flows near recent burn scars,” the NWS said.

“Very wet system”: The west coast is watered by atmospheric rivers, which increases the risk of flooding

With the active wet system moving west, thousands experienced power outages. About 100,000 electric customers in Washington, Oregon and California combined were without power Wednesday morning, according to estimates by PowerOutage.us.

On Wednesday, more than 2,800 flights into, into or out of the U.S. were canceled by 12:30 a.m. ET, according to FlightAware, leaving thousands of travelers stranded at airports across the country. And already over 2,370 flights were canceled for Thursday.

President Joe Biden said his administration would hold the airlines accountable about the mass cancellations and referred passengers to the Department of Transport to see if they were eligible for compensation. The The Department of Transportation said it would look into Southwest Airlines’ cancellations in particular, which accounts for the majority of outages.

Airlines could see additional problems later in the week as temperatures rise east of the Rockies and fog becomes a bigger factor.

WHAT TRAVELERS NEED TO KNOW: Nearly 2/3 of Southwest’s flights are canceled

CANCELED FLIGHTS: 1,000 Southwest fliers sleep overnight at Denver airport

The growing death toll in the Buffalo area reached a grim milestone Tuesday, surpassing the death toll in Snowstorm of January 1977 — widely considered the region’s worst storm in recent history that killed 29 people in four days, including 12 who were found frozen to death in stranded cars, the Associated Press reported.

On Wednesday, officials said the death toll had risen from 31 to 34.

The storm had surprisingly little snowfall, only about 12 inches in Buffalo, but brought persistent, deadly cold temperatures to the area for weeks. The winds in blizzard conditions continued for nine straight hours, with zero visibility for 13 straight hours.

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Powerful winds instead blew loose snow from previous storms from frozen Lake Erie onto land, creating massive snowdrifts and completely burying houses and cars.

“The 1977 storm is the benchmark storm for the Buffalo area,” Thompson said. “This storm definitely looks like it has now become the deadliest storm in the Buffalo area.”

Thompson noted decades of U.S. blizzards that killed hundreds, including the 1993 Storm of the Century that killed more than 300 people in more than a dozen states. It is considered the second costliest winter storm on record, according to federal weather data.

Contributing: Cady Stanton and Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY. Associated Press

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