Look around. Seem familiar?
It’s been a while since Buffalo took the brunt of a full-fledged winter storm. The last real blast, in December 2010, caught an array of plow crews flatfooted and stranded motorists in a Thruway no-man’s land.
Since then, major winter Nor’easters have skirted Buffalo and dumped their havoc on cities to the east.
The storm that tore up from the southern Plains Wednesday started throwing snow at the city at about 4 p.m., with the threat of 8 to 16 inches over the following 12 hours, said Jim Mitchell, a National Weather Service meteorologist at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.
By sundown, the snow had fallen fast enough to cover virtually every street and roadway in Western New York. But the respite expected at about 4 a.m. today could give plows time to catch up before this morning’s commute – lighter than normal because schools are closed during the holiday recess.
Winds were expected to taper this morning, too, from 25 to 30 mph Wednesday evening to about 10 to 15 mph, still high enough to swirl the powder and strain visibility. The winter storm warning issued by the Weather Service remains until 4 p.m.
The strong winds Wednesday created a seiche, when water is pushed from one end of shallow Lake Erie to the other.
Wind-driven seiches on the lake usually push water toward Buffalo, but Wednesday’s gales lowered the water level here by some 2 feet and lifted it by roughly the same measure in Toledo, Ohio, Weather Service meteorologist Bill Hibbert said.
With snow falling at nearly one inch an hour, motorists crept home after the work day Wednesday. People were injured in wrecks in Buffalo at Main Street and Winspear Avenue and in Cheektowaga near the Walden Galleria.
On the Thruway, a car slid into a ditch near the Williamsville toll barrier, state police said. The Thruway Authority reported several cars off the road along the highway.
With snow falling even faster in the Southern Tier, the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office said there had been many storm-related accidents, and Sheriff Timothy S. Whitcomb advised against unnecessary travel.
At 7 p.m., when the Buffalo airport had 3 inches of snow on the ground, the Cattaraugus County town of Allegany had 10 inches, according to Weather Service data.
Flights into Buffalo airport, meanwhile, were canceled or delayed because of delays at other airports.
“Our main runway is open,’’ said C. Douglas Hartmayer, speaking for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
The storm threatened to roll through most of New York State before continuing north toward Maine.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo activated the “State Emergency Operations Center” to monitor the weather and any emergency needs. It was staffed by leaders from an array of agencies, such as the state police, Department of Transportation, Thruway Authority, Office of Fire Prevention and Control, and the Division of Military and Naval Affairs, among others.
The Thruway Authority said it would devote its 600 maintenance employees, 96 seven-ton snowplows, 52 front-end loaders and three truck-mounted snow blowers to ensure the system remains open throughout the storm. The DOT committed its 1,346 plows, 300 loaders and 35 snowblowers statewide.
The Governor’s Office also urged power companies that operate in New York to brace for the power failures that the storm could trigger. Cuomo had become frustrated by the length of time that power remained out around the New York City metropolitan area after Superstorm Sandy.
One of his top aides, Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz, sent a letter to the chief executives of utility companies saying, “The State of New York will hold your company accountable for its performance.”
The return of a real winter storm could have been worse. The snow hit on the opening day for Kissing Bridge. And with the National Hockey League season gone dark, thousands of fans didn’t venture out to the First Niagara Center for the Sabres game once scheduled for Wednesday evening.
Across the region, plows were expected to rumble along until dawn.
“We will plow continuously until [this morning] at 7 o’clock,” Bob Anderson, the Amherst Highway superintendent, said at about 7:15 p.m. Wednesday.
The 35 plows his department devoted to keeping the streets open spent the first hours laying down salt to prevent ice on the roadways, then plowed the snow aside along the approximately 370 center-line miles of road that are the town’s responsibility.
“Everything is open, but it’s just a constant pounding of snow,” Anderson said. “This is a typical winter storm. It is just snowing, snowing, snowing.”