At least two people have died in connection with an extreme lake effect snowstorm in western New York that could dump up to 6 feet of snow in the Buffalo region.
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Two Erie County residents died from cardiac arrest "related to exertion during shoveling/snow blowing," Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said.
A state of emergency has been declared for Erie County, which includes Buffalo, as the potentially historic snowstorm hits the region.
A countywide driving ban went into effect Thursday night, with only those authorized for emergency travel allowed to drive. It was temporarily lifted in Buffalo Friday morning, before being reinstated for the city, Poloncarz announced.
South Buffalo in particular has been hit "incredibly hard," Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said during a press briefing Friday, prompting officials to reimpose the travel ban.
"We do not want any driving in that area at all," Brown said.
A lake-effect snow warning is in effect through 1 a.m. Saturday for southern Erie County. A winter storm watch will be in effect from Saturday evening through Sunday afternoon.
At least 5 feet of snow is possible for parts of the region by Saturday morning, with snowfall rates of at least 3 inches per hour accompanied by lightning and gusty winds as high as 35 mph.
"This will produce near zero visibility, nearly impossible travel, damage to infrastructure, and paralyze the hardest-hit communities," the National Weather Service warned.
The long-duration event brought intense bands of lake-effect snow across Buffalo and Watertown Thursday night. On Friday, the lake-effect band off of Lake Erie is forecast to shift slightly north and remain over Buffalo and the Southtowns, while the band off of Lake Ontario will remain slightly north and over the Watertown metro area, according to the National Weather Service in Buffalo.
Parts of Erie County have already reported 4 feet of snow as of midday Friday. An additional 20 to 40 inches are likely between Dunkirk and Buffalo, for up to 6 feet of snow possible in some areas.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul issued a state of emergency in 11 counties due to the storm, with hazardous travel conditions and lower power outages likely.
"This is considered an extreme event," Hochul said during a press briefing Thursday morning. "That means it's dangerous. That also means it's life-threatening."
More than 350 plows, 5,700 utility crews and the National Guard have been deployed and are standing by, she said. Parts of the New York State Thruway also closed to commercial traffic starting at 4 p.m. Thursday.
"This can go on for a number of days," Hochul said. "The cleanup is going to take some time." ■