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Wintry weather blast: State of Emergency, schools closed

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Tuesday for all of New York State.  A winter storm is moving through much of the upstate region, Hudson Valley and New York City.

The late season winter storm moving along the east and the Governor’s declaration prompted many school districts across the Buffalo Niagara region to close Tuesday. That included area colleges and universities like UB and SUNY Buffalo State. The school closings were in anticipation of the snow storm. But the Buffalo area is not being impacted as hard as other parts of the state.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says that prompted the Erie County Executive to issue a critical message on Twitter.

“I expect Atlanta to shut down with six inches of snow. Charlotte with six inches of snow, but not Buffalo,” said County Executive Mark Poloncarz in a WBFO interview.

Poloncarz issued a Tweet saying “Let's show some backbone folks". He asked when did six inches of snow over 24-hours ever stopped Buffalo.  

“We can handle that locally and I just want people to understand that this is what we call winter. We know how to handle it here and if the city of Buffalo and Erie County and Western New York starts shutting down with six inches of winter then we start losing that reputation of being the hearty souls that we are that can handle the weather thrown to us,” Poloncarz remarked.

Poloncarz noted the state of emergency does provide the Governor with the power to move equipment around where it would be needed the most in the state, but he's questions why so many school districts are closed Tuesday.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Outside SUNY Buffalo State Tuesday morning, shutdown due to winter storm.

"But I did talk to a couple of school administrators late last night and early this morning, and one of them said 'Mark the real reason is we have used snow days, but we just don't to publicly go out and say  we using it because it has been such a mild winter,” stated Poloncarz. "But when you're expecting six inches of snow for the whole day, I thought it was a little drastic to be closing schools.  If the snow was expected to fall at a rate of three to five inches an hour, I would have recommended that superintendents close school districts, but when are closing schools down when we only get six inches of snow -- that's not who we are.”

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Outside the Herman Badillo School on Elmwood in Buffalo Tuesday morning also closed due to weather conditions.

However, some school districts, like Buffalo, stated on Twitter they closed because of the state of emergency. 

Frontier Central Schools Superintendent Bret Apthrope tells WBFO News he was concerned about a weather event this afternoon and the possibility of students being stranded.

"We only have enough buses to move one-third of our kids, so it takes several hours to cycle the buses through to get kids home, and then we also 1,000 students who go to 63 different locations around Western New York that we also have to pick up  and take care of,” Apthrope explained.

Apthrope told WBFO with the state declaration, he was also concerned that the Governor could close down the Thruway.  "Because if the Governor closes the Thruway, we have to close schools," responded Atprhope.   

In Niagara Falls, streets crews were out Monday afternoon salting roads in advance of the coming weather, according to Mayor Paul Dyster. 

"The snowfall timing and the snowfall amounts have pretty much been right on the forecast," he said. "It's inconvenient but nothing that we can't handle."

Niagara Falls City Schools were also closed Tuesday. Mayor Dyster was asked if the district was appropriate to cancel classes or were they perhaps, as critics suggest, overreacting. 

Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley
School bus in the Frontier Central School District.

"It's not my call to make but I can tell you this. Not having to worry about plowing around the schools in time for the kids to turn up this morning, and the school buses to come on to the city streets, makes our job keeping the thoroughfares and commercial districts open a lot easier."

Wintry weather continued to influence cancelations and closings in the Cataract City later Tuesday. Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls closed for business at 4 p.m., citing the weather. 

All Erie County and City of Buffalo offices remain open Tuesday. But local leaders urge drives to use caution on the snow covered streets and roadways. 

The National Weather Service expects this storm to drop more than a foot of snow across those areas.  A Blizzard warning was issued from northern Westchester County through the Hudson Valley to the Canadian border in norther New York, but was canceled for the metropolitan New York City area.

In the Western New York region a Winter Storm Warning remains in effect until 8 p.m. Wednesday for Erie, Genesee and Wyoming counties with blowing snow in the forecast.  Heavy snow and blowing snow is expected to create visibility issues and could create hazardous driving at times. Visibility could be as low as a half a mile at times.  Four to seven inches of snow is expected Tuesday with another four to seven Tuesday evening and two to four inches Wednesday.

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.