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County officials urge caution during storm: 'To underestimate this would be a mistake'

Erie County officials stressed caution to Western New Yorkers during their first briefing of what could be another eventful weather day.

They advised to adhere to travel advisories issued in several municipalities, notably in the Northtowns, which has received the brunt of the storm. Travel advisories are in place for the City of Buffalo and the northern Erie County.

"To underestimate this would be a mistake," said Greg Butcher, Erie County Deputy Commissioner for Homeland Security and Preparedness. "I think it’s the totality of all of the things brought together. The snow event itself, the high winds, mixed with the extremely cold temperatures are the things we need to be concerned about."

Butcher was satisfied for the moment regarding the scope of the storm and how agencies have prepared for it.

“We believe this is a manageable event at this point,” Butcher said, "and we have nothing to lead us to the contrary."

Officials said there have been no reports of serious injuries or deaths due to this week's snowstorm. They also noted that there are apparently no power outages in the county.

Whiteout conditions led to a number of car accidents overnight, Butcher said, noting the I-90, I-290 and Route 33.

"Blowing snow has created whiteout conditions throughout the Northtowns and we’re expecting that to continue throughout southern Erie County," Butcher said. "There was a considerable number of accidents in the overnight even with the limited number of people on the roadways."

County Executive Mark Poloncarz noted on Twitter why there has not been a driving ban issued; it's because driving bans can only be issued if a state of emergency exists.

Butcher said the travel advisory could be expanded to the Southtowns.

"It could expand to the southern part of Erie County based on the reports we’re going to receive from the National Weather Service today and the changes that we may find developing," he said.

John Rivera of the county's Department of Public Works said the county had 40 vehicles on 40 routes working through the night and also stressed the poor visibility.

“A lot of folks, myself included being born and raised in Buffalo, we think we can sort of handle all the snow," Rivera said. "And we know it might not seem like much inches, but in reality, it doesn’t matter what kind of vehicle you drive. If you’re driving and you can’t see the lines in the road, it doesn’t really matter if you're driving an SUV or a four-wheel vehicle.

"Drive cautiously, drive only if it’s necessary, and just remember at these temperatures, road salt doesn’t have the effect it usually does, so again, cautiousness before anything, safety before anything."

Rivera said that there is no real substitute for salt in these kind of temperatures. Some municipalities have used sand, beet juice, even pickle juice, he said.

"What we have found is, once it hits below a certain temperatures," Rivera said, "it’s not really the product that’s the issue but waiting for the thaw of it."

Rivera was asked how this storm compares to Storm Knife of 2014.

"That was different in that we had a lot of snowfall in a tight amount of area, relatively quickly," he said. "Here, we’re sort of seeing the opposite – we’re seeing it sort of come and go in different areas. There’s more than one band going north, and then heading south. What that’s meant is we haven’t been able to concentrate all of our areas in one area. Our vehicles have touched every road that’s in their normal plow routes."

County officials stressed these safety measures:

  • No unnecessary driving.
  • If driving behind a snowplow, allow for plenty of distance between your vehicle and the plow.
  • If traveling, officials stressed that people have a charged cellphone as well as something to eat.
  • If a motorist slides off the road and is unable to move, call for help and remain where you are.
  • Regarding the extreme cold and the possibility of frostbite, which can set in in 30 minutes: Dress in layers and minimize your skin exposure, particularly your hands and face, and minimize time outside.
  • High-efficiency furnaces require ventilation, make sure those vents are clear of snow.
  • Space heaters can be troublesome at this time of year, as improper use can cause fires. They should be kept away from anything combustible.

Another update from county officials is set for 9:30 a.m. during a joint press conference with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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