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Wallop of lake-effect snow shuts down Southtowns

Highway and emergency crews spent the overnight hours clearing roads of more than two feet of snow and cars abandoned by their owners.

Some parents retrieved their children who were stranded for hours at schools.

And Southtowns residents who hunkered down at their offices, a downtown pub or a friend or relative's house headed back home.

All of that won't change the snowy hangover many affected residents will be feeling when Friday morning comes -- even if school is canceled and the skies are blue.

It sure was one long Thursday.

[RELATED: What to expect in the next 36 hours]

The day ended with afternoon commutes grinding to a halt on Route 5, Abbott Road, South Park Avenue, Union Road and the New York Thruway.

But it started much earlier when an intense band of lake-effect snow walloped Southtowns communities.

Some frustrated motorists became so exhausted they ditched their cars right on the road.

By late Thursday, 28 inches of snow was on the ground in Blasdell. There were 23 inches in Hamburg, 21 in Orchard Park and 14.5 in Angola.

School buses got stuck. So did snow plows.

Orchard Park resident Joy Higgins saw them in her more than six-hour afternoon commute from Buffalo.

The Waze app on her phone told Higgins to take Route 219 home from her job at St. Mary's School for the Deaf in Buffalo, but she was wary.

The roads were filling up with snow quickly. And, it was hard to see from her all-wheel drive Subaru.

"I was like 'I don't want to get stuck on 219 when I can't get out of my car and get to safety,'" Higgins said.

She got to Union Road and was on it for hours, observing a stuck school bus and abandoned cars in the traveling lanes along the way, but finally pulled into her driveway about 9:30 p.m.

"I didn't think it would take me that long," Higgins said.

Apparent structural problems on a Harlem Road bridge near Clinton Street only exacerbated the situation.

Compromised joints in the bridge shut the road down in that area during the storm.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz tweeted that county plows were prevented easy access to the south from their barns on Harlem Road into the zones where the heaviest snow had fallen.

Sara Wigdor, a cashier at the Mobil Eco Mart at Clinton Street and Harlem Road, near the bridge, said police blocked access to the bridge about 5 p.m. and that at least 20 drivers came into the shop complaining.

"They were all mad because the Thruway was closed and they couldn't use the bridge, either," she said. "And they had no warning about the conditions."

Tim Cousins, who lives in Buffalo's Kaisertown neighborhood, complained the bridge closing should have been better marked.

Sitting in a Tim Horton Cafe and Bake Shop at Clinton Street and Harlem Road, he said he walked across the bridge on an icy sidewalk about 9:30 p.m. to meet his fiancee, Denise Deyot, a deli worker in the Tops Market at Harlem and Mineral Springs roads south of the bridge.

"They really should have a 'road closed' sign," he said. "All there are are barricades blocking access to the bridge."

The Thruway closed down for a period between Ridge and Milestrip roads because of an accident, the Thruway Authority reported.

It was one of the many Southtowns travel routes that became clogged with slow or stopped traffic in the wake of a massive lake-effect snowstorm that blitzed an area from roughly Woodlawn to West Seneca.

At one point several hours into Thursday evening, emergency managers recommended those in traffic attempt to pull off into retail establishments to allow plow drivers to clear the roads of nearly two feet of snow that fell, while advising those not traveling to stay put and out of the roadways.

A reprieve came later Thursday when the band, which dropped an estimated 3 to 4 inches per hour, shifted southward out of the Southtowns after 8 p.m.

The weather service canceled a lake-effect snow warning for northern Erie County a few hours early.

Lake-effect snow is forecast to stay mainly in the Southern Tier Friday.

From a special weather statement by the weather service just before 10 p.m.:


A lake band will will continue to move onshore and produce a burst
of snow from Ripley northeast to Holland. This will also affect the
Buffalo southtowns, Boston Hills, and areas along the Chautauqua
Ridge through about midnight. This includes the Thruway from the PA
border to just past Angola. These areas may see a burst of snow
with amounts ranging from 1 to 4 inches during through midnight.

Hardest hit areas this afternoon such as Lackawanna, West Seneca,
and Hamburg are mainly north of the band now with little additional
accumulation expected this evening. Although snow has mostly moved
out of this region, traffic is moving very slowly or at a standstill
due to road closures, accidents, and abandoned cars. Travelers who
would like to head south across the band should wait until road
crews can clear the roads. Those stuck in traffic that can navigate
to retail establishments should do so so road crews can get through.

But not before the snow band pounded areas like Woodlawn, Hamburg, Lackawanna and West Seneca for several hours late Thursday afternoon, stranding vehicles in place on area roadways during the afternoon rush hour. Other impacted areas included South Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Batavia, Depew, Dunkirk, Fredonia and Lancaster.

"The band will crash into the shoreline and produce a short burst of snow from Ripley northeast up the Thruway to Hamburg," according to a special weather statement.

Forecasters added that all areas south of the city of Buffalo also "may see a quick burst later this evening with amounts ranging from 1-4 inches."

Then, the band is forecast to weaken and "reorient itself" over the Southern Tier overnight.

An intense band of lake-effect snow (in yellow) stalled just south of the city of Buffalo for several hours. At about 7:15 p.m., it appeared to be dipping southward again, according to radar images. (National Weather Service)

We knew the heavy lake-effect snow was coming.

Because of its fickle nature, where it falls -- and where it doesn't -- created another commuting nightmare.

This time, it was in the southern half of metro Buffalo.

Lake-effect snow pummeled areas on a line from roughly Blasdell to Batavia.

About 7 p.m. Thursday the Hamburg Town Police reported that the entire north part of the town was at standstill due to the heavy snowfall.

West Seneca Police reported only one problem with a tractor trailer rig blocking a side street near the West Seneca-Orchard Park border over an hour earlier.

Lackawanna Police said that because of the heavy snowfall about that time the whole city was “at a standstill.”

Initial forecast models suggested the snow band would arrive in the city earlier than 6 p.m.

And, as a precautionary measure, many workers in downtown Buffalo were allowed to leave their offices a bit early.

Erie County sent its employees home at 2:30 p.m. Buffalo City Hall closed at 3:30 p.m. The Buffalo Schools canceled after-school activities.

But, the arrival of the heaviest of the lake-effect snow was delayed in downtown Buffalo when it seemed to stall in place just south of the city. It never made it that far north.

Snow totals at the Buffalo airport ended up at just 2.2 inches, according to the weather service.

That resulted in travel advisories in several places, including the towns of Orchard Park, Aurora and Lancaster.

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