Winter storm updates: Blizzard conditions, arctic freeze sweeps Buffalo


The brutal winter storm conditions that continue to sweep across much of the United States left one of the snow-accustomed cities of Buffalo in limbo overnight and into Saturday, leaving hundreds trapped in vehicles in the freezing cold and snow. and there is no way for rescuers to reach them.

Two people died in separate incidents at their homes before first responders were able to reach them. Most of the area has no emergency services, said Mark C. Poloncarz, county executive of Erie County, which includes Buffalo. A doctor was teaching a woman who was giving birth to her sister’s baby at home over the phone. Hospital first responders were unable to reach the child, who was in need of help several blocks away. He said people were stuck overnight in restaurants as well as in their homes.

“It was a very, very bad night in our community,” Polonkarz said. “Good, the sun is up.”

“This may be the worst storm in our community’s history, surpassing the infamous blizzard of ’77 in its ferocity,” he said.

He said there was no emergency response in about two-thirds of the area affected by the snow. The ambulances themselves were covered in snow. “It’s not something we’re proud of,” Polonkarz said. More than 27.8 inches of snow fell at Buffalo Airport.

He cautioned people not to call 911 or 911 unless they have a life-threatening emergency. Abandoned cars posed an additional problem, and there were concerns that snow-clogged vents would allow carbon monoxide or natural gas to escape back into homes.

Gov. Cathy Hochul (D) ordered the National Guard to respond, and units were en route to the affected area. He and another official said there were multiple rescues overnight around the Buffalo area, in some cases snowplows pulling trapped drivers from their vehicles and taking them to warming centers.

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Hochul said about 73,000 people in New York state were without power, half of them in the Buffalo area. The Buffalo airport will be closed until Monday morning, Hochul said, and warned people hoping to travel there for Christmas not to try to drive.

Snow was forecast to continue in the Erie County area throughout the day and possibly into early Christmas. Day, said Polonkarz.

While Buffalo may have seen the worst of the monster storm, several parts of the country were spared from the cold, ice, snow and wind that swept across the country over the past two days. Temperatures were below freezing in Houston on Saturday, and wind chills swept across the Midwest.

Four people were killed Friday in a 46-vehicle pileup on an Ohio turnpike, authorities said.

On Friday, at least 1.5 million people lost power and temperatures plummeted, sometimes at record speeds. About 1.1 million people were without power as of Saturday afternoon, with hundreds of thousands without power in Tennessee and Kentucky, according to

High energy demand from cold temperatures caused temporary power outages for about 340,000 people in the Carolinas on Christmas Eve, Duke Energy said. PJM, an electric grid operator that operates in 13 states from Illinois to Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia, is urging consumers to conserve electricity through Christmas morning.

FedEx said Saturday that severe weather is causing disruptions to its hubs in Memphis and Indianapolis, and that deliveries are expected to be delayed into Monday.

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Air travel was disrupted with thousands of flight cancellations. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttig said on Twitter that about 20 percent of flights on Friday were canceled. Air travel was slowly coming back, but he urged patience.

Hurricanes pounded the Great Lakes region. Even winter-tested cities like Chicago and Detroit have closed holiday attractions and urged people to stay indoors.

The storm, described by the National Weather Service as a “once in a generation” storm, began on Thursday and is expected to continue through the Christmas weekend, eventually making a 2,000-mile path across the country. The danger zone stretched from Canada to Mexico and from Washington state to Florida.

In Michigan, a Detroit television station reported that an 82-year-old woman was found near her apartment building in Bath Township on Friday morning.

On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, a tribal leader reported that people were trapped in ice and 30 inches of snow and were burning clothes for warmth because wood shipments could not get through.

The conditions “pose a dire threat to tribal government operations, public safety, and the health of tribal members who currently lack access to medical care, such as dialysis, emergency medical care, and crisis intervention,” said Oglala Sioux Tribal President Frank Starr. Comes Out wrote in an email.

In Kentucky, swirling winds and freezing temperatures created a series of traffic accidents that created massive backups along a 14-mile stretch of US 127. The icy conditions left dozens of vehicles stranded and at least one tractor-trailer jackknifed. The shutdown spread across the state.

Following the crashes, only one lane of Interstate 71 South remained open, with state officials reporting hundreds of commuters were stranded for six miles. The state said in a Twitter post that emergency officials were working to “get them off the road and warm them up.”

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“I know this has been difficult for a lot of people, but we’ve checked every single vehicle on I-71 in this stretch,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said at a press conference Saturday morning. “There are no tragedies or serious medical injuries. Of course, many people needed to be helped. I know many people were afraid. It was a basic tractor-trailer knife that took a long time to clear.”

Beshear said there were 43,000 power outages and the state asked residents to reduce their electricity usage to minimize the possibility of power outages. The governor issued an executive order reducing the speed limit to 45 miles per hour in some areas and urged people to stay off the roads if necessary.

As the temperature gradually increased, the outlook became brighter. State officials said Saturday morning that roads were gradually being cleared, and Emergency Management Director Jeremy Slinker said he was “hopefully turning the corner today.”

Hochul said water poured into the streets of Far Rockaway and other parts of the Queens, N.Y. coast, freezing after rains and freezing temperatures, creating an ice hazard for residents in the area.

He said at a briefing on Saturday that the “realistic feeling” temperature was not above freezing anywhere in New York state. The governor said the storm in western New York “will go down as one of the worst in history” and attributed the worsening effects to the effects of climate change.

However, New York’s airports were open and trains and subways were running, Hochul said.

Emily Wax-Thibodeau, Jason Samenow, Daniel Paquette and Emmanuel Felton contributed to this report.


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