Even though her street was buried under 3 feet of snow, Jean Ulrich considered herself lucky so far. The octogenarian and lifelong resident of Bowmansville, just outside Buffalo, has seen lots of snow before — but never, she said, like last week.
Epic lake-effect snowfall pummeled the Buffalo region, dumping about 80 inches of snow, causing at least 13 deaths and virtually shutting down highways for days with thousands of stranded cars.
This weekend the snow stopped, but more weather turmoil is expected with rain ahead and warming temperatures. New York state officials are advising residents to brace for flooding and to try and shovel snow from strained roofs.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo advised residents Saturday to stockpile food and flashlights and clear drains of leaves before temperatures climb into the 50s Sunday and 60 by Monday.
“We’re used to the flooding because we live right on the creek,” Ulrich said. “But something like this, I mean, I’m 81 or 82 and I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve never witnessed anything like this. I don’t know what the hell is going to happen.”
Citing lessons learned from the sluggish response to Superstorm Sandy, Cuomo said the state had already brought in 28 swift-rescue boats, 375 water pumps and 176,000 sandbags.
“We are preparing for the worst as we enter phase 2 of this battle with Mother Nature,” he said.
He also warned residents to watch and listen for structural damage to their homes when the snow, which can hold the equivalent of 4 to 6 inches of rain water, begins to melt Sunday. The snow is already starting to compact down to about 5 feet in some areas, he said.
“Flooding can be worse than the snow, no doubt about it,” Cuomo said.
Up to three-quarters of an inch of rain is expected in Buffalo this weekend, and autumn leaves are still falling and can clog drainage systems, said National Weather Service meteorologist Steven Welch.
More than 500 National Guard troops were still working to clear the highways and other roads as some travel bans were being lifted. Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said officials were beginning to reunite drivers with abandoned cars that have been clogging highways.
A 68-year-old man died after having a heart attack Friday while using a snowblower to clear his driveway, bringing the death toll to 13, said Peter Anderson, a spokesman for Poloncarz. He said there had been 30 roof collapses in the county so far.
Snowfall totals ranged from 55 to 88 inches across the affected area from back-to-back storms that blew in off Lake Erie, bringing bands of unusually wet and heavy snow. Houses and other buildings have been nearly buried in snow for days.
Local officials have compared the snowfall to the blizzard of 1977, which killed 23 people in the region and dropped as much as 100 inches of snow between Jan. 28 and Feb. 1.