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Dangerously cold weather prompts warnings, closes schools

Eileen Buckely/WBFO News

Lake-effect snow moved through Erie County late Tuesday and early Wednesday morning as extreme weather converged on Western New York.

Heavy lake-effect snow is expected with dangerously cold wind chills. Winds will gust as high as 45 miles per hour late Wednesday through Thursday, possibly producing near blizzard conditions with severe blowing snow.

Wind chills could reach as low as 25 below zero. With high temperatures in the single digits on Wednesday and Thursday, a Wind Chill Watch has been issued from Wednesday morning through Thursday afternoon.

Kirk Apffel of the National Weather Service expects one to two feet of snow to fall across the region.

"The lake-effect band is going to develop late this afternoon near the Buffalo metro area and it's going to remain there through tonight and then life northward late tonight. The areas impacted tonight are going to be the downtown, the near southtowns and the northtowns," Apffel said.

"After that, the band is going to slide south on Wednesday and settle toward the more traditional snow belts," Apffel added. "It's going to remain in that area Wednesday and Wednesday night and then slide a little bit further south on Thursday."

Apffel said with strong winds gusting up to 40 mph, the conditions could make travel “very difficult to impossible.” Blowing snow could “significantly reduce visibility.”

WBFO's Chris Caya reports

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown says three Code Blue overnight shelters will be open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They are Harbor House at 241 Genesee Street, St. Lukes at 325 Walden Avenue and Holy Cross Church Hall at 412 Niagara Street.

Brown says residential trash and recycling pickup is canceled for Wednesday and Thursday.  

"We want to make sure that we are not exposing our sanitation workers to these extreme temperatures that we expect to see, the subzero temperatures that we will see, on Wednesday and Thursday," Brown said at a news conference Tuesday.

Trash pickup will resume its regular schedule next week.

Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, flanked by numerous city officials, updated storm preparations Tuesday morning.

City Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak says street crews are out to help make sure school children get home safely.  

"We don't want people out there longer than they have to be. We're coordinating with DOT to get some assistance and equipment to help the City of Buffalo on some of the mains. We're working on that right now. We were working with them last night as well to get this organized," Stepniak said. 

Stepniak says the city currently has 35 plow trucks out clearing main and secondary streets.

On Tuesday morning, dozens of area school districts began canceling classes Wednesday and Thursday, including the Buffalo Public Schools.

Buffalo Police Captain Jeff Rinaldo is reminding drivers to obey parking signs. Rinaldo says big weather events put a large strain first responders and he says illegally parked and abandoned cars will be towed.

"Please obey the parking laws. We will be removing cars that are blocking hydrants, as well as mains. We've seen in  previous snow storms where people get their vehicles stuck and just abandon them. Those situations create a very delayed reponse for any kind of first aid or police service," Rinaldo said.

The city is closing its six recreational/community centers Tuesday through Thursday: Asarese, Hennepin, JFK, Lincoln, Machnica & Tosh Collins. Two indoor pools, Cazenovia & Lovejoy, will also be closed.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, on Tuesday, issued a travel advisory, in effect until further notice, for the City of Buffalo and all of Northern Erie County.

"A government’s primary responsibility is ensuring the safety of the public, and the conditions we will be experiencing over the next two days are potentially life-threatening," Poloncarz said, in a statement.

Travel advisories has also been issued for Genesee County and the Town of Amherst.

Along with the Winter Storm Warning and Wind Chill Warning, a Lakeshore Flood Advisory is in effect for Erie and Chautauqua counties from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced tractor trailers and commercial buses will be banned from certain Western New York highways beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Those include the New York State Thruway from Exit 46 (Rochester I-390) to the Pennsylvania border as well as Interstate 190, Interstate 290, State Route 400, U.S. Route 219 from Peters Road to Interstate 90; and State Route 5 from State Route 179 to I-190. Beginning at noon Wednesday, tractor trailers and commercial buses will be banned on Interstate 81 from the Canadian Border to State Route 104.

The Erie County Department of Senior Services is advising that Meals on Wheels of WNY will be closed on Wednesday due to the storm. The Meals on Wheels congregate dining program will also be closed. All at-risk clients have a two-day blizzard box provided and a well check will be completed with Tuesday’s delivery.

Ken-Ton and Amherst Meals on Wheels will also be closed Wednesday and Thursday, with similar measures being taken.

All state, county and city courts in Erie County are closed Wednesday. Visitations at the county holding center and correctional facility are canceled for the day. All Erie County office buildings will be closed Wednesday, though essential personnel are expected to report. Buffalo's City Hall is also closed Wednesday.

County health officials are urging resident to protect themselves from the elements, noting 14 people died in a signficant winter storm in 2014.

"With these extreme cold temperatures and the snow, I think there are three conditions that we really have to worry about. First is frostbite, second is hypothermia, and the third is developing a heart attack or some type of cardiac event in somebody who is exerting themselves, like shoveling their driveway outside in the extreme cold," Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said, at an afternoon press briefing.

Poloncarz urges residents to download the ReadyErie app for information on the storm.

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Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.
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