Erie County in western New York is digging out after the historic holiday blizzard that killed dozens of people and crippled the region for days.
Snow fell at rates of 3 inches per hour at times. Buffalo, the county seat, officially received 51.9 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service. Some towns in the Buffalo area reported up to 6 feet of snow.
With more than 1,200 miles of roads, some of which have four or five lanes, that leaves a lot of snow that must be removed to get the metro moving again.
“Snow is being hauled to empty lots throughout the city,” said Bill Geary, Erie County’s Commissioner of Public Works. “There are four total dump spots with mountains of snow. We need to use spots we had not used before.”
Lake Erie is not an option for dumping snow despite being the 13th largest lake in the world, according to NOAA. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation fears snow contaminated by the salt used to melt ice on roads, for example, will harm the lake.
“We try not to dump it in the lake,” Geary told FOX Weather. “It’s definitely more challenging in more populated areas.”
At least one of those dump spots that are used after a snowstorm already had a mountain of snow on it from a November storm that made the record books, too. That three-day storm blasted the Buffalo Niagara International Airport with 36.6 inches of snow. Hamburg, in Erie County, got 81.2 inches of snow, about 6.5 feet.
This storm marks the second time in just two months that the National Guard was called in for storm recovery. Since November, Buffalo has seen more snow than they usually see all winter by 6 inches.
Follow all the coverage of the deadly winter storm in western New York
“The National Guard is assisting with getting people from their homes for dialysis and providing traffic control to my snow removal crews,” said Geary. “There are pedestrians walking the roads, with some cars. The traffic control is to prevent accidents.”
The county’s goal is to have at least one lane open on every street by Wednesday night – five days after the storm. The county doesn’t plow the city of Buffalo’s roads, but the DPW is assisting to clear a quarter of the city, according to Geary. The second-largest city in the Empire State was still under a driving ban through midweek.
Crews plow roads then push and scoop snow off side streets to main roads with high-lift loaders. Then dump trucks haul the snow to the storage lots.
Erie County DPW has 200 employees to drive 45 plow trucks, 15 high-lifts and 4 snowblowers. The blizzard forced Geary to hire 72 additional high-lifts and 119 more haul trucks, he said.
Geary said the 15-day outlook, which calls for above-average temperatures, gives him hope.
“It will help tremendously,” Geary said. “Snow storage (potential) along the roads will increase before our next event (storm), just by melting.”
In the meantime, drivers in intersections will have to peer around 4- to 5-foot-high snow banks lining some roads.