A massive storm that dumped about a year’s worth of snow this week over western New York finally ended Friday but left in its wake the threat of major flooding as mountains of snow began to melt under warming temperatures.
National Guard troops and emergency workers from across the state were struggling to clear roads of vehicles abandoned at the height of the storm so that they could send in heavy equipment to remove the snow.
As they worked, another death was reported: a man found in his car in Cheektowaga, outside of Buffalo. The vehicle was off the road and buried in snow. That fatality brought the death toll to 12. Earlier, county officials said 13 people were dead, but they corrected that figure Friday afternoon.
At a news briefing, Eerie County executive Mark Poloncarz said he could not rule out the possibility of more victims being found as crews scoured more than 1,800 miles of county roads checking on the hundreds of vehicles that were stranded after snow began pummeling the area late Monday.
“It would not be a surprise,” said Poloncarz.
Snow stopped falling Friday after some areas received two feet more overnight, and temperatures were expected to hit the 50s over the weekend.
“The warming will bring melting. Melting will bring water. Water will bring floods,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as the National Weather Service issued a flood watch for the area starting next week. “We are preparing now for more flooding than we have seen in a long, long time,” Cuomo said.
Preliminary snowfall totals ranged from 55 to 79 inches across the affected area from back-to-back storms that blew in off the Great Lakes, bringing bands of unusually wet and heavy snow. Major roads were closed and were not expected to reopen until Friday afternoon, and then only for vehicles delivering essential services.
Cuomo urged people who did not need to go somewhere to remain off streets so that emergency vehicles could continue working to clear roads and to reach people in need of assistance. “We do not intend to signify all is fine, get in your car,” he said. “If you have a non-essential purpose, now is not the time to be driving around.”
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.
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