Winter Storm Updates: Blizzard conditions, arctic cold sweep Buffalo


Brutal winter storm conditions that continue to affect much of the United States brought one of the most snow-accustomed cities, Buffalo, to a standstill overnight and into Saturday, with hundreds of people stranded in vehicles in the frigid cold and the blowing snow, and there is no way for the rescuers to reach them.

Two people died in separate incidents at their homes when first responders were unable to reach them. There is no emergency service for much of the area, said Mark S. Poloncarz, county executive of Erie County, which includes Buffalo. A doctor was teaching a woman over the phone who was giving birth to her sister’s baby at home. The first emergency crews from a hospital couldn’t reach a baby who needed help a few blocks away. People were stranded overnight in restaurants as well as in their homes, he said.

“It was a very, very bad night in our community,” Poloncarz said. “Thankfully, the sun came out.”

“This could turn out to be the worst storm in our community’s history, surpassing the famous blizzard of ’77 in ferocity,” he added.

He said no emergency response was available in about two-thirds of the area affected by the blizzard. The ambulances themselves are stuck in the snow. “It’s not something we’re proud of,” Poloncarz said. Over 27.8 inches of snow fell at the Buffalo airport.

He warned people not to call 911 or 911 during a storm unless they have a life-threatening crisis. Abandoned vehicles posed additional problems, and there were concerns that snow-clogged vents were causing carbon monoxide or natural gas to build up in homes.

Governor Kathy Hochul (D) the National Guard ordered to respond and units were on their way to the worst affected parts of the region. She and another official said there were multiple rescues around the Buffalo area overnight, in some cases with snowplows, pulling stranded drivers from their cars and taking them to warming centers.

About 73,000 people were without power in New York state, Hochul said, half of them in the Buffalo area. The Buffalo airport will be closed until Monday morning, Hochul said, warning people hoping to travel there for Christmas to also not try to drive.

Snow was forecast to continue falling in the Erie County area throughout the day and possibly into early Christmas Day, Poloncarz said.

While Buffalo may have seen the worst of the monster storm, few parts of the country have been untouched by the cold, ice, snow and winds that have swept across the country over the past two days. Temperatures were below freezing in Houston on Saturday and sub-zero wind chills swept across much of the Midwest.

Four people were dead after a 46-car pileup on the Ohio Turnpike on Friday, authorities said.

Power was cut for at least 1.5 million on Friday and temperatures plummeted, sometimes at record speeds. About 1.1 million were still without power as of noon Eastern Saturday, according to PowerOutage.uswith hundreds of thousands in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Duke Energy said high power demand due to cold temperatures led to temporary power outages for nearly 340,000 people in the Carolinas in the run-up to Christmas. PJM, an electric grid operator that operates in 13 states from Illinois to Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia, urges users to conserve energy on Christmas morning.

FedEx said on Saturday that bad weather is causing disruptions at its Memphis and Indianapolis hubs and that delivery delays can be expected through Monday.

Air transport was disrupted with thousands of flights cancelled. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Twitter that about 20 percent of flights on Friday were canceled. Airlift was slowly returning, but he urged patience.

Blizzards smothered the Great Lakes region. Even winter-battered cities like Chicago and Detroit closed holiday attractions and urged people to stay inside.

The storm, which the National Weather Service described as “once in a generation” began Thursday and is expected to continue through the Christmas weekend, eventually carving a 2,000-mile path through much of the country. The danger zone stretches from Canada to Mexico and from Washington state to Florida.

In Michigan, a Detroit television station reported that an 82-year-old woman was found dead outside her assisted living facilities in the town of Bath on Friday morning.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, a tribal leader reported that people were trapped by ice and 30 inches of snow, burning clothes for warmth because firewood supplies couldn’t get through.

The conditions “pose an immediate threat to tribal government operations, public safety and the health of tribal members who currently do not have access to medical care such as dialysis, ambulance and crisis intervention,” Oglala Sioux Tribe President Frank Star Goes out writes in an email.

In Kentucky, swirling winds and plummeting temperatures caused a series of traffic accidents that led to massive backups up to 14 miles long on US 127. Icy conditions caused dozens of cars to collide and at least one tractor-trailer to shear as delays and road closures spread across the state.

The crashes left just one lane open on Interstate 71 South, where officials said hundreds of travelers were stranded for a six-mile stretch. The state said in a post on Twitter that emergency services were working “to get them off the road and into warmth.”

“I know this has been difficult for a lot of people, but we’ve done health checks on every single vehicle on I-71 in this backup,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Bescher said during a press conference Saturday morning. “There are no tragedies or serious medical injuries. I must have helped a lot of people. I know a lot of people were scared. It was a large tractor trailer knife that took a considerable amount of time to clear.

Bescher said there were 43,000 power outages and the state asked residents to reduce their electricity use to minimize the potential for blackouts. The governor issued an executive order lowering the speed limit in certain areas to 45 mph and urged people to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary.

As temperatures gradually rose, the outlook brightened. State officials said Saturday morning that roads were gradually being cleared, and Emergency Management Director Jeremy Slinker said he was “hoping to turn the corner today.”

Hochul said water poured onto the streets of Far Rockaway and other coastal parts of Queens, N.Y., then froze as the rains left and temperatures dropped, creating an ice hazard for area residents.

She said during a briefing Saturday that the “actual felt” temperature was not above freezing anywhere in New York state. The storm in western New York “could go down as one of the worst on record,” the governor said, attributing the worsening impact to the effects of climate change.

However, New York’s airports were open and trains and subways were running, Hochul said.

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Jason Samenow, Danielle Paquette and Emmanuel Felton contributed to this report.

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