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County Executive says heavy snow rate, accidents triggered Thursday night delays

Erie County plows were out and a plan was in place, as lake effect snows fell over parts of Western New York. But County Executive Mark Poloncarz says they, too, were caught in lengthy delays that were blamed on the high rate of snowfall and the accidents which kept even plows stuck in traffic.

As thousands of commuters took to the roads Thursday afternoon and evening - some leaving work earlier than scheduled - lake effect snow fell at a rate of about four inches per hour in municipalities south of Buffalo, including Lackawanna, West Seneca, Orchard Park and Hamburg.

For some, a typical commute became hours of waiting. For dozens of students in West Seneca, a ride home from school turned into hours waiting on their bus.  

Erie County plow crews were out, said County Executive Poloncarz, but when traffic was diverted from the New York State Thruway, tractor trailers were among the passenger vehicles. One of them jackknifed in Hamburg, causing a lengthy backup.

"Until they can remove the tractor trailer, the traffic can't go anywhere," Poloncarz said. "We were just as stuck as anyone else."

Tractor trailers were not the only vehicles involved in accidents during the snowy commute. The Erie County Sheriff's Office, on its Twitter account, reported at least one vehicle went off the road twice while traveling on Route 400.

"You had vehicles that were not prepared for winter," Poloncarz said. "We were receiving numerous reports of vehicles with bald tires."

Also not helping the cause was the storm system's holding pattern. The county executive noted that the snow was expected to briefly shift north into the Metro Buffalo area. It didn't and instead dumped about four inches per hour.

"We can handle snow at rates of two to three inches an hour," Poloncarz said. "When it gets above four inches an hour, it's very difficult to handle if you have accidents on the road."

He noted that the rate of snowfall was similar to that during the November 2014 snowstorm he named "Winter Storm Knife." Snowfall during that storm, which lingered for days and resulted in several feet of accumulation, came at a rate of three to five inches per hour, according to Poloncarz.

And yet, the morning commute was generally uneventful in the Buffalo area with most main roads and highways cleared.

"I submit there's no community in the nation that could handle 30 inches of snow in six hours, like some communities received, and then be open for business by seven o'clock so people could get to work," the county executive said. 

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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