Buffalo, N.Y. (AP) — The death toll from a snowstorm rose to 27 in the Buffalo region of western New York, which has suffered one of the worst weather-related disasters in history, authorities said Monday. Much of the rest of the United States has been hit by a harsh winter.
Those who died near Buffalo were found in cars, houses and snowdrifts. Some died while shoveling snow, others died when emergency crews were unable to respond to the medical crisis in time.
President Joe Biden said his prayers were with the families of the victims and that federal aid was being sent to the hardest-hit states on Monday.
Across the country, the storm killed at least 50 people and rescue and recovery efforts continued Monday.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz described the blizzard as “probably the worst storm of our lifetimes” and warned that more deaths were likely. He noted that some people were trapped in their cars for more than two days.
“This is a dire situation and we can see a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not over yet,” he said on Monday. Some areas could see an additional 9 inches (23 centimeters) of snow as of Tuesday, the National Weather Service said on Monday.
The climate change crisis may have contributed to the storm’s intensity, scientists say. That’s because the atmosphere can carry more water vapor, which can be used as fuel, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Victor Gensini, a professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University, likens a single weather event to a “hitting ball” — and climate to your “batting average.”
“It’s hard to say,” Serreze said. “But is the dice a bit loaded now? Absolutely.”
Snowstorms swept through western New York on Friday and Saturday — stranded motorists, knocked out power and kept emergency crews from reaching residents trapped in frigid homes and cars.
With many grocery stores closed and driving bans in place in the Buffalo area, some have taken to social media to plead for food and diaper donations.
The snowy inclement weather tested a region accustomed to snow.
“It doesn’t matter 1,000 more devices, 10,000 more people, nothing can be done at that point. It’s just too bad,” said county official Poloncarz. “I know it’s hard for people to believe, but it’s like looking at a white wall for 14 to 18 hours straight.”
Ashton Robinson Cook, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the weather will ease this week, though, as forecasts point to a slow rise in temperatures.
“It’s nothing like last week,” Cook said, adding that the bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops rapidly in a powerful storm — had weakened. It developed near the Great Lakes, causing blizzards that included high winds and heavy snow.
The extreme weather stretches from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande on the border with Mexico. About 60 percent of the U.S. population faces some kind of winter weather advisory or warning, with temperatures dropping sharply below normal from east of the Rockies to the Appalachians.
About 3,410 domestic and international flights had been canceled as of about 3 p.m. ET Monday, according to tracking site FlightAware. Southwest had 2,497 cancellations — about 60% of its scheduled flights and about 10 times the number of other major U.S. airlines, the website said.
Southwest said the weather is improving, which will “stabilize and improve our situation.”
According to FlightAware, airports across the U.S. are suffering from cancellations and delays, including Denver, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle, Baltimore and Chicago.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who visited her hometown of Buffalo on Monday to inspect the aftermath, called the snowstorm “one of a kind.” Nearly every fire truck in the city was stranded Saturday, she said.
The storm comes more than a month after the region was inundated with another “historic” snowfall, Hochul noted. Between the storms, snowfall totals were not far off the 95.4 inches (242 centimeters) the region typically sees throughout the winter.
Snow totals at Buffalo Niagara International Airport were 49.2 inches (1.25 meters) at 10 a.m. Monday, the National Weather Service said. The airport will remain closed until Wednesday morning, officials said.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown described the heartbreaking task of rescuing storm victims from cars, homes and streets.
“Our police are human. It’s painful to find out that a member of your community has died,” the mayor said, adding that snowstorm victims “tried to get out during the storm, got lost and died on the street. “
At a nearby home, Shahida Muhammad told WKBW that a power outage knocked out her 1-year-old son’s ventilator. She and the baby’s father breathed manually from Friday to Sunday as rescuers saw her desperate social media posts and came to help.
Erie County officials said they went to the family’s home Saturday but no one came. Mohammad said they were there, but thankfully her son is doing well despite the ordeal. She called him “The Fighter.”
The storm also caused power outages in communities from Maine to Seattle. The mid-Atlantic grid operator called on its 65 million customers to save energy amid the bitter cold Saturday.
Deaths related to the storm were reported across the country, including at least eight people killed in car crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky, a woman who fell through ice in a Wisconsin river and a deadly Kansas homeless disaster. Attributable camp fire.
Many others were injured, including in St. Louis, Georgia, where a driver swerved Monday to avoid a salt truck and hit the center line.
In Jackson, Mississippi, crews struggled Monday to get water through the capital’s troubled water system, authorities said. Many areas have no water or low water pressure. Residents were told to boil their drinking water on Christmas Day after pipes burst in the frigid temperatures.
“The issue must be a significant vulnerability in the system that we have not identified,” the city said in a statement Monday.
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