BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The death toll from a Buffalo-area blizzard rose to 27 in western New York, authorities said Monday as the region reeled from one of the worst weather-related disasters in its history. Much of the rest of the United States was hit by ferocious winter conditions.
The dead around Buffalo were found in their cars, homes and in snowbanks. Some died while shoveling snow. The storm that walloped much of the country is now blamed for at least 49 deaths nationwide, with rescue and recovery efforts continuing Monday.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz described the blizzard as “the worst storm probably in our lifetime” and warned there may be more dead. Some people, he noted, were stranded in their cars for more than two days.
“It’s just a horrible situation that we can see sort of the light at the end of the tunnel. But this is not the end yet,” he said Monday.
Scientists said that the warming earth may have contributed to the intensity of the storm. That’s because the atmosphere can carry more water vapor, which acts as fuel, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The National Weather Service said Monday that up to 9 more inches of snow could fall in some areas through Tuesday.
The blizzard roared through western New York Friday and Saturday, stranding motorists, knocking out power and preventing emergency crews from reaching residents in frigid homes and stuck cars.
With many grocery stores in the Buffalo area closed and driving bans in place, some people pleaded on social media for donations of food and diapers.
Extreme weather stretched from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the U.S. population faced some sort of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures plummeted drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians.
Some 2,085 domestic and international flights were canceled on Monday as of about noon EDT, according to the tracking site FlightAware. The site said Southwest Airlines had 1,253 cancellations — nearly a third of its scheduled flights and about five times as many as any other major U.S. carrier. An email sent to Southwest was not immediately returned and the Dallas-based airline hadn’t updated its website about the conditions since Saturday.
Based on FlightAware data, airports all across the U.S. were suffering from cancellations and delays, including Denver, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle, Baltimore and Chicago.
Relief is coming this week, though, with forecasts calling for temperatures to slowly rise, said Ashton Robinson Cook, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“Nothing like what we had last week,” Robinson Cook said adding that the bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — has weakened. It developed near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said almost every fire truck in Buffalo was stranded Saturday and she implored people Sunday to respect an ongoing driving ban in the region. The National Weather Service said the snow total at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport stood at 49.2 inches (1.25 meters) at 10 a.m. Monday. Officials said the airport would be shut through Tuesday morning.
Two people died in their suburban Cheektowaga, New York, homes Friday when emergency crews could not reach them in time to treat their medical conditions.
Freezing conditions and power outages had Buffalonians scrambling to get to anywhere with heat amid what Hochul called the longest sustained blizzard conditions ever in the city.
In a nearby home, Shahida Muhammad told WKBW that an outage knocked out power to her 1-year-old son’s ventilator. She and the child’s father manually administered breaths from Friday until Sunday when rescuers saw her desperate social media posts and came to their aid.
Erie County officials said they went to the family’s home Saturday but that no one came to the door. Muhammad said they were there but thankfully her son was doing well despite the ordeal. She described him as “a fighter.”
The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. The mid-Atlantic grid operator had called for its 65 million consumers to conserve energy amid the freeze Saturday.
Storm-related deaths were reported all over the country, from six motorists killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky to a woman who fell through Wisconsin river ice and a deadly Kansas homeless campfire.
In Jackson, Mississippi, city officials on Christmas Day announced residents must now boil their drinking water due to water lines bursting in the frigid temperatures.
Victor Gensini, a meteorology professor at Northern Illinois University, likened a single weather event to an “at-bat” and the climate as your “batting average.”
“It’s hard to say,” Serreze said. “But are the dice a little bit loaded now? Absolutely.”