A massive Christmas winter storm buried parts of western New York with up to 109 cm (43 inches) of snow, leaving at least 27 people dead. Sadly, authorities said the death toll may rise because some people have been trapped in cars for more than two days. Nationwide, the death toll stands at 49, as of late December 26.
According to local authorities, many of the fatalities in New York occurred due to the extreme cold, as people became stranded on impassable roadways. In other cases, first responders were unable to drive through the massive snow drifts, and could not reach medical emergencies.1
Parts of western New York were buried under 109 cm (43 inches) of snow, with most of it falling on the Buffalo Niagara International Airport and its vicinity.
On December 23, the airport received 56.6 mm (22.3 inches) of snow and another 45.5 mm (17.9 inches) on December 24. In total, this weather station recorded 235.4 cm (92.7 inches) of snow since the start of the season.
“The 235.4 cm (92.7 inches) of snow is not only the most snow to start the winter season through Christmas, but also just 6.8 cm (2.7 inches) behind the typical entire seasonal snowfall,” the NWS office in Buffalo said.
The storm began as a rain event for Buffalo, with the city receiving 5 mm (1.98 inches) on Friday, December 23, breaking the prior daily record of 4.4 mm (1.73 inches) set in 1878.
“As Arctic air rushed in, however, rain changed to heavy snow Friday morning. The Buffalo airport recorded zero-mile visibility for nearly 16 hours from midday Friday to the early morning hours of Christmas Eve,” AccuWeather meteorologists said.
Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer described this weather event as ‘one of the most extensive, most intense blizzards I’ve ever covered.’
On December 26, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said that 27 people died in Erie County — 14 people died due to exposure, 3 people were found in their vehicles, 4 had no heat, 3 died while shoveling snow, and 3 people passed away after EMS services were delayed.
New York state police said they performed over 500 rescues by Sunday, December 25, including delivering a baby and helping a man with 4% left on his mechanical heart, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said.2
“We’re still in the throes of this very dangerous life-threatening situation,” Hochul said, urging residents to stay off the roads as a driving ban remains in place in Erie County through Monday, December 26.
“Our state and county plows have been out there, nonstop, giving up time and putting themselves in danger, driving through blinding snowstorms to clear the roads,” Hochul said.
“Some residents have remained in their homes for the last 56 hours, some without power in the freezing cold,” Hochul said. This was not due to a lack of resources, but due to mobility and access challenges faced by utility companies.
Early Friday morning, December 23, over 240 million people in the United States were under some form of winter weather warning or advisory, marking one of the greatest extents of winter weather warnings and advisories ever recorded in the United States.3