New York snowstorm: Buffalo residents are accustomed to winter emergencies - but the ferocity of this storm took them by surprise

The extreme weather has been blamed for five deaths in western New York, three from heart attacks

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The Independent US

“Buffalo is buried in snow,” exclaimed the New York Post. The cold weather that has held America in its icy grip this week was not, however, limited to the freezing East Coast.

Every state in the US experienced sub-zero temperatures this week, as Arctic weather moved south and snow covered more than half of the country on Tuesday. According to the US National Weather Service (NWS), areas in all 50 states fell below zero degrees Celsius – including Hawaii, where the temperature dipped below freezing at the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the archipelago’s Big Island, which rises 13,800ft above sea level.

The NWS said 50.2 per cent of the country had snow on the ground on Tuesday morning. By yesterday morning, Tallahassee in Florida shared the same chilly temperature as Anchorage, Alaska.

Among the worst-hit areas was western New York state, where Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency across 10 counties, deploying National Guard troops to assist residents after snow fell in some areas at a rate of five inches per hour. In parts of Erie County and the city of Buffalo, at least 60 inches (1.5m) of snow fell, at a rate too intense for snowploughs to tackle properly.

An NWS spokesman told the Buffalo News that the snowstorm was “a historic event”, and that there was no meteorological term to describe the “wall of snow” that moved across the region.

For some residents of upstate New York battered by one of the worst lake-effect storms in memory the hardest task was getting the doors of their homes open with snow piled six foot deep in some areas.  For one family, it was the opposite problem. An avalanche of snow from their roof blew their back door in.

“It was a huge crash. We all started running back there. We actually thought that it was the roof coming down in the house,” said Chrissy Gritzke Hazard who was home with her husband, five children and three of her children's friends when the door exploded and snow almost filled an entire room. “We were definitely not expecting it to be the doors blown out, the frame, everything, inside the house.”

Buffalo and surrounding communities are accustomed to winter emergencies when frigid air mixes with moisture over the Great Lakes and then dumps it again as snow on land. But the ferocity of the storm that started on Monday evening and still wasn’t done with on Wednesday took many by surprise. It had been blamed for five deaths in western New York, three from heart attacks.

Emergency services were focused on finding cars trapped on the main interstate highway connecting Buffalo to the rest of the state. As many as 100 cars were reported stranded on a 132-mile stretch of the road. It remained closed today as did scores of schools in the region.

Among those who became trapped were members of Niagara University’s women’s basketball team who were eventually rescued by police and taken early on Wednesday to a nearby police station after roughly 24 hours marooned in their bus. Another victim of nature’s onslaught was Bryce Foreback, 23, of Pennsylvania, who spoke to the Associated Press by mobile phone after waiting 20 hours for help.

“It seemed like a nightmare. It just didn't feel like it was going to end,” he said.  “I haven't slept in like 30 hours and I'm just waiting to get out of here.”

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While the largest snowfall amounts were concentrated in a band just to the south of the city of Buffalo, forecasters warned that additional precipitation was likely to shift in a northerly direction impacting the downtown area and northern suburbs before the storm finally winds down early on Thursday.

“This storm is basically a knife that went right through the heart of [New York’s] Erie County,” County Executive Mark Poloncarz, told CNN. “I can’t remember, and I don’t think anyone else can remember, this much snow falling in this short a period.”

Weather watchers were trying to establish whether parts of the county may have surpassed the current record for the most amount of snow to fall in one place held by Silver Lake in Colorado, which in 1921 saw 76 inches drop in one 24-hour period.

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