BUFFALO, N.Y. — Homeowners opened their front doors to find themselves sealed in by sheer walls of white. Shovelers turned walkways into head-high canyons. A woman gave birth in a firehouse after the snow prevented her from reaching the hospital.
Even for Buffalo, a place that typically shrugs at snow, this was an epic snowfall, the kind of onslaught folks will be telling their grandchildren about.
The Buffalo area found itself buried under as much as 5½ feet of snow Nov. 19, with another lake-effect storm expected to bring 2 to 3 more feet by late Nov. 20.
“This is an historic event. When all is said and done, this snowstorm will break all sorts of records, and that’s saying something in Buffalo,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a visit to the city.
The storm came in so fast and furious over Lake Erie early Nov. 18 it trapped more than 100 vehicles along a 132-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway, which remained closed Nov. 19.
People were marooned at homes, on highways and at work. Residents who can handle 6 inches of snow as if it were a light dusting were forced to improvise.
Tom Wilson, of West Seneca, split a Salisbury steak frozen dinner with co-workers and tried his best to get some rest when he was stuck 36 hours at his warehouse job.
“I slept on a pallet. Then I slept on some office chairs, and then I went back to the pallet,” he said. “Then I found some sponges to lay on. I found one pack of sponges unopened. That looks like a pillow to me.”
“We tried to make popcorn with a two-by-four, two empty pop kegs, some charcoal and a dust pan,” he added. “It didn’t work.”
Trapped on a team bus on the Thruway for nearly 30 hours, the Niagara University women’s basketball team melted snow for water, posed with long faces for pictures that were posted online and generally tried to keep each other’s spirits up.
“I’m sure when it’s all done we’ll look back at it and remember how great a bonding experience it was. For now, I think everyone just wants to get home and sleep in their own beds,” said coach Kendra Faustin.
How snowy was it? The National Weather Service said it was so bad that some of the spotters it relies on to update accumulation totals couldn’t get out of their houses to take measurements.
Bethany Hojnacki went into labor at the height of the storm and ended up giving birth in a Buffalo fire station after she and her husband couldn’t get to the hospital. Baby Lucy weighed in at 6 pounds, 2 ounces. Mother and child were later taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
Cuomo said afternoon that all trapped travelers had been removed from their cars, though some truckers were staying with their rigs.
Asked by reporters how officials could allow people to be snowbound in cars for 24 hours, Cuomo cited a jackknifed trailer that prevented plows from removing fast-falling snow and drivers’ own wrongheaded choices.
“What happened was, even though the Thruway was officially closed, people went on. We didn’t immediately block every entrance. It was a mistake,” Cuomo said.
“Part of it is citizen responsibility,” he added. “If the road is closed, it’s closed.
The storm was blamed for up to seven deaths in western New York, at least four of them from heart attacks. Erie County officials said a man was discovered in his car, which was in a ditch and buried in snow 24 miles east of Buffalo. It was unclear how he died.
Sunny skies returned to some hard-hit areas Nov. 19, but workers were still trying to cart off the acres of snow. Lake-effect snow fell heavily on some northern New York areas east of Lake Ontario.
With an additional 2 to 3 feet possible by Nov. 20, the one-week totals for the Buffalo area will approach the average snowfall for a year: 93.6 inches, or close to 8 feet.
Cuomo warned that a weekend warm-up could lead to significant flooding when the thick blanket of snow melts. Forecasters say rain is possible this weekend.
The highest snowfall total for the Buffalo area this time was 65 inches, recorded in Cheektowaga. National Weather Service meteorologist David Church said that forecasters haven’t determined yet how this storm ranks, but that 60 to 70 inches in 24 hours is probably in the top 5 for the region.
The heaviest 24-hour snowfall on record in the Lower 48 states is 75.8 inches, which fell at Silver Lake, Colorado, in 1921, according to the government.
The Governor said it would take four or five days to clean up.
The Buffalo Bills offered $10 an hour plus game tickets for people willing to help shovel out the stands in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, in the snow belt southeast of the city.
Team spokesman Scott Berchtold said the team has an estimated 220,000 tons of snow to remove from the stadium before Sunday’s game against the Jets — more than ever before.
The snow was heaped so high on the roof a Cheektowaga home that when it fell, the force blew in the back door, frame and all, and filled the living room with snow.
“It was a huge crash. … We actually thought that it was the roof coming down in the house,” said Chrissy Gritzke Hazard, who was home with her husband, five children and three of her children’s friends.
Amtrak passenger train service between Albany and the Buffalo area was suspended. Some service through Buffalo will be restored starting Nov. 20, with delays expected, Amtrak said.
And that old “Neither snow nor rain …” Postal Service motto? Mail delivery was interrupted in certain communities with driving bans.
The storm struck Buffalo on a day when temperatures dropped to freezing or below in all 50 states. At least a foot of fresh snow was expected in parts of Michigan through Nov. 21, adding to deep snow on the ground.
By Carolyn Thompson. AP writer Michael Hill contributed from Albany