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Schools' fans brave wind, snow and freezing temps to get to NCAA Tournament in Buffalo

Wisconsin’s supporters woke up to an 11 degree day.

The Fighting Irish faithful drove through snow – off three Great Lakes.

For Princeton, Villanova and Virginia Tech’s fans, it was the wind.

While we were battling the two-day storm known as “Stella,” getting to Buffalo on Wednesday wasn’t easy for fans coming to the NCAA Tournament basketball games whether by car, bus or plane.

[Related: For all your NCAA coverage]

“Yeah, it was fun,” said Wisconsin fan Patti Kendall, her tone dripping with sarcasm,

Kendall, 67, booked a flight out of Madison at 6:40 a.m. Wednesday, but that was delayed three hours, which would have forced her to miss her connection in Chicago.

She scrambled to get a ticket on another airlines and made it to Buffalo at 11:20 a.m.

Her son, Chad, 37, had his own problems.

He left Milwaukee at 7 a.m. with a connecting flight in Baltimore. His plane nearly landed in Buffalo, but the weather forced the pilot to pull up and swing over to Cleveland, where they waited out the storm for a couple hours. He finally made it to Buffalo at around 3 p.m. to join his mother at the Badgers open practice in the KeyBank Center.

“We were destined to get here – one way or another,” Patti Kendall said. “But the Badgers owe us a couple games.”

And, it wasn’t a piece of cake after they arrived here under winter storm warnings, either.

Lake-effect snow off Lake Ontario whipped the Buffalo Niagara region for the first-half of Wednesday.

Bonus flakes topped off Winter Storm Stella’s snowfall with 4.9 more inches, bringing the storm’s total to 19.6 inches at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

It's winter madness in March, baby!

What visitors might not know is more snow fell in Buffalo on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday than all of January and February – combined.

“We drove,” said West Virginia fan Carol Shoaff from Wheeling. “It was mostly OK.

"When we left we only had a couple inches of snow. The sun was shining,” Shoaff said, “But once we hit Slippery Rock, Pa., it was ugly from there to Erie.”

All will be forgiven if her Mountaineers win.

“The last time we were in Buffalo we ended up in the Final Four,” Shoaff said. “We’re hoping for the same.”

Preparing for the games

City employees spent Wednesday moving all that snow away from KeyBank Center as well as the streets and sidewalks leading up to it.

“We’ve been working with the Sabres and Buffalo Place and with the Bisons,” said Steven J. Stepniak, Buffalo’s public works commissioner.

Stepniak said city parks and engineering departments assisted public works in cleaning the streets around the arena of snow in advance of the tournament and its visitors.

Chris and Susan Herron liked what they saw.

The Villanova graduates caught a flight to Buffalo out of Virginia Beach, Va., on Monday.

“We were one of the last planes to get into Buffalo before it got bad,” said Chris Herron, 59. “We figured we spend a few extra days in lovely Buffalo. It’s been fun.”

“It’s actually a neat little town,” said Susan Herron, 55.

Only one problem: Their tickets to the game fell through. The couple was still scrambling for a pair Wednesday afternoon.

What to expect

The city’s wintry side will be on full display for visitors in this sixth visit of March Madness to Buffalo.

With Wednesday’s snowfall, it already bested the 2000 as the tournament’s snowiest visit to Buffalo.

Forecasts show it could be its chilliest, too.

Not a problem for Kevin and Justin Kling. The father and son were just excited to make the three-hour trip to their first NCAA Tournament from their home in Mansfield, Pa.

“I think we had more snow when we woke up at home,” said Kevin Kling, 46. “The snow got less and less as we got up here, I thought. It was blustery at times when we couldn’t see in front of us.”

“Some cars in the ditch,” piped in Justin, 18.

“But for the most part, it was uneventful, really,” said Kevin.

Here’s what visitors can expect:

The average high temperature forecast between Wednesday and Saturday for this year’s tournament is 31 degrees. That’s more than 10 degrees below normal.

The only past tournament with an average high temperature below 40 degrees was 2004.

The mean daily temperature of 27.9 degrees that year was March Madness’ coldest visit to Buffalo to this point.

The snow machine could be on-again, off-again through the weekend, but forecasts show the heaviest snows are probably over for now.

“We will have some sunshine Thursday afternoon,” said Steve Welch, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “That will help melt some snow, and it will be a little warmer.”

March Madness warm weather is won out West

Friday, an off-day for tournament fans, could be best weather-day in Buffalo – at least through dinnertime.

Thursday’s forecast high will be close to 30 degrees. Friday will approach 40 degrees.

With the late week “warm-up,” comes the next storm system – a Canadian Clipper.

Welch said the clipper’s expected to bring a mixed bag of rain, snow and sleet in time for Saturday’s session at KeyBank Center.

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