Bitter cold blasts region, posing challenges to residents - The Buffalo News

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Bitter cold blasts region, posing challenges to residents

The sun made its brightest showing of the New Year on Friday across the Buffalo Niagara region.

But it was the air that took your breath away.

Daylong single-digit temperatures, which mixed with a west breeze to drop the wind chill below zero. It required residents to wage a different sort of battle against winter’s elements from Thursday’s heavy snow, but in many ways, one that was no less challenging.

The frigid blast of winter took a tragic turn when an elderly Genesee County woman with dementia succumbed to the elements after she wandered outside late Thursday and was unable to make it back to her home.

To protect children, schools across the region were closed. Still, the day off did not result in outdoor frivolity for youngsters.

With a daytime high temperature of 6 degrees, it was far too cold.

Some area residents remained unable to get back to the Queen City – marooned in places along the East Coast – where Winter Storm Hercules battered areas with heavy snow and wind, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights and closing highways, including a more than 100-mile portion of the Thruway between Albany and New York City.

Area highway crews used the day to finish mopping up Thursday’s snowy mess while emergency road services workers buzzed from motorist to motorist providing relief, mostly from dead car batteries.

Joggers still got their exercise. Ice fishermen cast their lures. The newspaper and mail were still delivered. Downtown construction crews hammered on.

It was a bone-chilling January day in Buffalo, but one with stories to tell.

Here are a few of them:


Carol Magoffin, a 71-year-old Byron woman with dementia, was resting with her husband Thursday evening when she got up and wandered outside into the bitter cold.

When Magoffin’s husband, Robert, woke up alone at about 9:30 p.m. and couldn’t find her, he followed her footprints in the snow and came across her lifeless body. Authorities said Magoffin died of exposure.

The tragic tale quickly grabbed the attention of those who deal daily with Alzheimer’s patients and the elderly.

Older people are particularly at risk for hypothermia – a deadly drop in body temperature – because of their slower metabolism and greater difficulty in registering feelings of cold. Dementia can exacerbate these problems.

The Alzheimer’s Association of Western New York advised people whose family members have dementia to be aware of the dangers of wandering, particularly in extreme weather, and recommends watching for “triggers” that a person may attempt to leave: agitation, fidgeting, pacing.

For other seniors, the cold meant their centers were closed and there were no Meals on Wheels deliveries in several communities, including North Tonawanda, Niagara Falls and the Ken-Ton area.

Meals on Wheels of Western New York was able to make its deliveries, said Rachel Leidenfrost, agency spokeswoman.

Ice machine

Buffalo got the last thing you would have thought it needed Friday morning – a new ice-making machine.

That’s exactly what some 100 construction workers hoisted onto the fifth floor of the new HarborCenter project: a 51,000-pound “ice plant” that will make ice for the complex’s two rinks.

Workers donned insulated thermal gloves, face warmers, hard-hat liners, fleeces, long underwear and plenty of layers as they battled the conditions.

“The No. 1 concern is the safety of the workers,” said Ryan Poropat, project superintendent for Mortenson Construction. “Way behind that is everything else, including productivity.”

That’s why project leaders emphasized that it was OK for any workers to take a break if they were too cold. And the rising structure already has three “warming” areas for workers.

Indoor play

Area schoolchildren are used to snow days, but youngsters may have been surprised Friday to have a “cold day” off – and, just a day after most of them returned to their classrooms after holiday breaks.

Many parents discovered they were on their own to watch the kids, staying home or enlisting grandparents or others for last-minute child care. Area YMCAs canceled before- and after-school youth programs, Boys & Girls Clubs were closed, and lots of classes in music, dance and martial arts that may have filled some time were called off. Even the Niagara Falls Public Library closed.

At the Jewish Community Center on Delaware Avenue, though, more than a dozen school-age children were swimming, playing in the gym and enjoying other activities in an extended version of the center’s after-school program.

“We do have extra kids here today,” said Laurie Greenspan, JCC marketing director. “They don’t have to be regulars in the program, they don’t even have to be a member. You can come as a community participant.”


Elisabetta Panza, a University at Buffalo graduate student stranded in the Big Apple, used Friday to explore the prestigious Museum of Natural History near Central Park.

Panza was unsure whether she would be able to board a Buffalo-bound flight Friday night from New York City.

So were her father, sister, and a friend, who were scheduled to take a flight at the same time back to their native Italy.

They didn’t know if they would be part of the more than 2,000 flight cancellations Friday.

Panza’s family, who live in a small village north of Milan, visited her for three days in Buffalo before everyone went to Manhattan to enjoy the sights.

Panza said they were hoping for the best, but would sleep in the airport if necessary.

Salt shakers

Broadcasting salt across the roads to melt ice and snow is an easy fix for area highway crews on normal days.

Friday wasn’t one of them. That required “the special mix.”

Amherst Highway Superintendent Robert Anderson said 110 of his employees fanned out on town roads using 40 pieces of equipment that treated the town’s roads with a special, more expensive brine mixture that “activates” in extremely cold temperatures.

When the mercury drops below 15 degrees, routine rock salt applications become less successful at melting the snowpack on roads.

“It has nothing to do with the salt, but the air dries it out,” Anderson said of the extreme cold. “To activate the salt, it needs moisture.”

“Without the moisture, the salt just acts as a friction pad.”

Ice truckers

Single-digit temperatures equated to double the work for emergency road crews from the AAA of Western and Central New York.

With only half the day done, AAA processed 400 calls throughout Western New York – significantly above a full day’s usual pace of about 560, according to Steve Pacer, a AAA spokesman.

AAA had 60 of its own trucks running down calls regionwide, in addition to its regular contracting crew, hoping to keep service response times quick.

“We’re definitely trying to be pro-active,” Pacer said. “It’s very widespread. It’s not just ‘Tonawanda’ or ‘Orchard Park.’ It’s the whole region.”

Motorists’ biggest headache Friday? Dead batteries.

“On a typical January day, 29 percent of our calls are for batteries,” Pacer said Friday. “So far ... it’s been 60 percent.”

Bundling up

Layering was the key to Jimmy Richburg’s half-hour run Friday morning down Elmwood Avenue near the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

The 24-year-old shoe buyer at Fleet Feet Sports runs six days a week, but the below-zero wind chill made warmer clothes an absolute necessity, Richburg said.

“I was wearing two pairs of gloves,” he said, “and my hands were still cold.”

The fear of frostbite was the main reason the runner – who also wore three shirts, a hat, face mask, tights and wool socks – decided not to run longer than he did.

Arctic Circle

It’s doubtful anyone appreciated the Arctic cold blowing through Buffalo like Luna and Kali.

The Buffalo Zoo’s two polar bear cubs – each is now around a year old – appeared to revel in the freezing temperatures Friday, as Luna rolled in the snow and Kali frolicked in a pool of water.

Luna, born in the Buffalo Zoo, dug through the snow, stretched to her full height against a tree and scampered about. At times, she rolled on her back in what seemed like sheer delight.

For Kali, the Arctic temperatures were the closest to his native northwest Alaska since the orphaned cub came to Buffalo in May at five months of age.

The snow machine

There’s a snow machine out there, and it’s got a lot of juice left in it.

As of Friday, 38.8 percent of Lake Erie was covered with ice, and the deeper Lake Ontario was only 7.4 percent covered, according to estimates and charts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

That, by no means, suggests that lake-effect snowstorms will only be 61.2 or 92.6 percent as strong, respectively.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a direct, 1-to-1 linear relationship there,” said Brent Lofgren, a scientist with the Ann Arbor, Mich., laboratory who specializes studying lake-effect snow. “That last 25 percent or so is the part that really shuts off the lake-effect snow.”

In many ways, Lofgren explained, the amount of ice coverage “needs to get close to 100 percent” to shut the machine down completely.

Winter, continued

After a weekend respite, there will be more days to shiver early next week.

“It could actually be even colder Monday night and Tuesday” than Friday, said Jeff Wood, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Buffalo, calling it potentially “the coldest air of the season.”

The new round of frigid Arctic air could also bring with it “lots of wind” dropping wind chills further. And – you guessed it – lake-effect snow.


News Staff Reporters Melinda Miller, Mark Sommer and Gene Warner contributed to this report. email:

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