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State of emergency declared in 18 NY counties after near-record snowfall

Dave Lucas / WAMC News
The National Weather Service recorded 22.9" of snow at Albany International Airport.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in 18 counties in the Capitol Region, Southern Tier and Hudson Valley on Thursday after a heavy snowfall. Some places, like Binghamton, got more than 3' of snow, while Western and Central New York, the North Country and New York City were spared with only a few inches.

Cuomo recommended people stay off the roads, if they can avoid it. There were 9,100 power outages, 600 automobile accidents and two fatalities.

“It is a serious condition,” Cuomo said. “Stay home, if you can.”

The National Weather Service recorded 22.9 inches of snow at Albany International Airport. Public buildings closed and those who braved the roads often found themselves spinning out today.

"We declared a state of emergency 6 o'clock in the morning," said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy. "We were up all night. It's something we don't like to do, but it's kind of weird. It's like you know, we have half the workforce working at home. Do you close the buildings but then you have so people working so there's a whole logistical thing that goes on behind the scenes to deal with union contracts and a variety of other stuff that you have to address - but we got walloped, 15 to 25 inches and most parts of the Capital Region and some areas got over 2 feet, like the town of Guilderland and in other places. So the hill towns typically you get more snow than we do here. So it's challenging."

"Winter Storm Gail" surprised most area meteorologists, ranking in the top five of all December snowstorms since the National Weather Service began keeping records in 1884.

Credit Craig Ruttle / Associated Press
Associated Press
A snow removal truck awaits assistance after becoming stuck in the snow as residents work to clear sidewalks in Binghamton Thursday.

According to the National Weather Service, the snow accumulations near the Greater Binghamton Airport reached 40", breaking the all-time record for two-day snowfall. The previous record was set in March 2017, when 35.3 " of snow developed over two days. A record-shattering 5.5" per hour fell between midnight and 4:00 a.m.

“Do not travel unless you have to,” said Broome County Executive Jason Garnar. “If you work, then you should report to work unless told otherwise, but you should use caution.”

The storm caused over 100 power outages across the Broome County area and left many cars stranded and abandoned.

Mike Ponticello, Broome County Emergency Services Director, said the biggest challenge was ensuring healthcare workers can travel to their hospitals and nursing homes.

“The big issue is getting to the hospitals,” Ponticello said. “We’ve been pairing plow trucks with ambulances.”

On Thursday, law enforcement assisted in transporting nurses and doctors to work. More four-wheel-drive vehicles and other snow removal resources were expected to come to Broome County from the Syracuse area.

New York state has a 5.3% COVID-19 positivity rate, down from 6.2%.

“That’s actually good news,” Cuomo said. “Bad news is 120 New Yorkers passed away yesterday.”

Credit Alex Davis (l) / Luis Lozada (r)
Cars covered in feet of snow in Glens Falls.

Cuomo said the Finger Lakes region is a real problem area for COVID-19 infections right now, at 8.2%, the highest in the state. Mohawk Valley is also a problem at 8.03%.

The snow did not hinder deliveries of the COVID-19 vaccine, Cuomo said. The federal government flies in the vaccine.

“There is no significant disruption,” Cuomo said. “In places where we need to supplement the transportation with four-wheel-drive vehicles, heavy equipment, we’re doing that.”

Tom Magnarelli is a freelance reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area.
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