How Buffalo clears 80 inches of snow almost as fast as it fell

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After one of the worst snowfalls in western New York on record, a monumental effort to clear up to eight feet of snow is nearing completion. The effort involved armies of people and hundreds of plows, loaders, snow blowers and tracked vehicles.

Less than 48 hours since the historic snowfall, many of the hardest-hit communities are back on their feet.

While some streets in the neighborhood are still buried in snow, Erie County general manager Mark Poloncarz reports that all major freeways, arterial roads and byways are now open.

“Now we are just improving and completing the work that needs to be done to ensure every neighborhood has been cleared,” Poloncarz told The Post on Monday.

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Erie County, which includes Buffalo, received some of the most astronomical amounts of snow from the lake-effect snow event, which also blanketed areas downwind of Lake Ontario with up to 6 feet of snow.

In Erie County, the National Weather Service received a report of 81.2 inches in Hamburg, NY, which is 15 miles south of Buffalo. At one point, snow was hitting the ground at over five inches an hour. 80 inches were reported in Orchard Park, home of the Buffalo Bills.

Around Hamburg and Orchard Park, 60 inches fell between Thursday night and Friday night alone, likely setting a new 24-hour state record.

“We get blizzards with lake effect. They’re not uncommon,” said Poloncarz. “What is unusual is the amount of snow that fell in this blizzard.”

Matthew Latko, the New York State Thruway Authority department head in Buffalo, who has lived in the city for nearly 34 years, called it “the greatest storm of all time.” He raved about his team’s reaction.

“I don’t think anyone in the country has done what our guys have done and the recovery time we’ve had,” he said.

The rapid-fire cleanup brought counties, cities, New York State and construction partners together.

Teams from the New York Thruway Authority in Buffalo and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) worked around the clock to push snow off the streets to roadside snow storage areas during whiteout conditions. There were significant periods when workers couldn’t see through the hoods of their cars, Latko said.

Trucks, unable to plow the thick snow, lifted and pushed the white heaps off the road. Overflowing snow was also dumped into dump trucks and taken in heaps to abandoned parking lots or other open areas.

“Right now, at one of our community colleges, there’s a four-and-a-half-story pile of snow that we’re using as a landfill,” Poloncarz said.

As of Monday morning, travel bans applied only to the city of Lackawanna and half of Buffalo while efforts were made to clear the streets. It took workers a little longer to clear Lackawanna and parts of Buffalo because the areas are more populated and have narrower streets. Poloncarz hoped to lift Lackawanna’s driving ban by the end of the day.

Eighteen communities were originally slapped with driving and travel bans Thursday to allow snowplows to clear the streets when the snow wasn’t as deep. Around 400 trailer drivers were fined over the weekend for disobeying the order. Many vehicles got stuck.

According to Marie Therese Dominguez, the NYSDOT Commissioner, over 500 NYSDOT plow trucks were deployed on roads throughout the region. Mechanics from across the state maintained heavy equipment throughout the weekend, and safety officers made sure workers were trained.

Before the snow covered the ground, layers of brine, a very high concentration of salt water, were foamed onto the roads to prevent hard layers of snow from being hardly pressed.

In addition to the efforts of government agencies, neighbors helped neighbors.

Nick Belles, 26, a tiller who clears commercial lots in Buffalo’s southern cities, said he slept a total of three hours during a three-day stretch. He stayed awake and drank coffee.

“I’m just trying to move on,” he said.

The snow was so heavy that he switched from plowing with a pickup truck to using a backhoe and other heavy equipment.

Residents banded together to ensure the Buffalo Bills players could make it to the airport after their duel against the Cleveland Browns was moved to Detroit from Orchard Park, where as much snow fell as quarterback Josh Allen. The Bills iced the Browns in a 31-23 win.

Officials advised leaving the heavy lifting to professionals. Two people died from heart attacks from shoveling in Erie County.

“In this war there are no generals, so to speak,” said Poloncarz. “Everyone works together”

At the federal level, President Biden agreed to send aid to the 11 affected counties to help state and local authorities in their cleanup efforts. The Emergency Declaration authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide disaster relief.

The aid follows New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D)’s request to the President for emergency aid on Saturday.

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This was the strongest storm to hit Buffalo since November 2014, when communities south of Buffalo were blanketed in 7 feet of snow over the course of three days. This storm claimed 14 lives.

The debilitating storm of 2014 forced nearly 300 members of the New York National Guard to step in to clear the snow. The snow piles from the storm remained through July.

This time, Poloncarz believes the region was better prepared.

“It was a monumental effort,” he said. “I don’t think there are many parts of the United States that could have responded to this type of storm and recovered as quickly as we have.”

Dino Grandoni contributed to this report.

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