Death toll rises in wake of Buffalo blizzard, unrelenting bomb cyclone
The nationwide death toll tops 64 after a ferocious winter storm brought subfreezing temperatures, trapped hundreds in their homes and buried Buffalo, New York, under 4 feet of snow.
While Buffalo continues to clean up following a historic snowstorm, AccuWeather speaks with Mayor Byron W. Brown about what lies ahead for the city.
A massive winter storm of epic proportions descended across more than half of the United States in the final days of 2022 and resulted in at least 64 deaths as millions of people experienced subzero temperatures, feet of travel-snarling snow and widespread power outages during the heart of the holiday season.
The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, generating a historic lake-effect snow event with hurricane-force winds and whiteout conditions just before Christmas. At least 39 of the storm's fatalities were reported in Erie County, New York, which includes the greater Buffalo area, County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Thursday.
According to Poloncarz, at least 17 people who died were found outside. Other causes of death ranged from having no heat, being stuck in vehicles, shoveling or snow-blowing cardiac events or from EMS services being delayed.
"I am aware of additional bodies that have been recovered and are being brought to our temporary morgue," Poloncarz told CNN on Monday. "We've had so many bodies that various hospitals are full and we're just having to go through and determine if the individuals have died from a blizzard-related death."
Poloncarz noted Wednesday that authorities are going door-to-door to conduct wellness checks, while an EMS task force was out heading to check locations that could not be reached during the storm. Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph A. Gramaglia said Wednesday that his department was still in the process of reviewing 911 calls and welfare check requests from the early portion of the storm, with between 200 and 300 calls still to review.
This event will go down as one of Buffalo’s deadliest winter storms, surpassing the historic Blizzard of 1977, which was blamed for killing as many as 29 people.
President Joe Biden said his prayers were with the victims' families, and offered federal assistance Monday to the hard-hit state.
The storm began as a rain event for Buffalo, with the city receiving 1.98 inches Friday, breaking the prior daily record of 1.73 inches that had stood since 1878. As Arctic air rushed in, rain changed to heavy snow Friday morning. The Buffalo airport recorded zero-mile visibility for nearly 16 hours from midday Friday to the early morning hours of Christmas Eve.
"One of the most extensive, most intense blizzards I've ever covered," Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer said amid the snowstorm.
As of Tuesday, over 4 feet of snow blanketed parts of Erie County. The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Buffalo measured 51.5 inches of snow through Tuesday at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. On Friday alone, the airport received 22.3 inches of snow, and then another 17.9 inches fell on Christmas Eve.
Buffalo officially surpassed 100 inches for the season on Monday. For comparison, Buffalo only had 10.7 inches of snow last winter by the end of December. This is more than the city's seasonal average for the entire winter, which stands at 95.4 inches, according to AccuWeather forecaster Ryan Adamson.
Conditions forced a closure of the airport until 11 a.m. EST Wednesday. Snow plowing equipment is being sent from Pittsburgh International Airport to assist with cleanup in Buffalo.
Christian Parker of Buffalo, N.Y., shovels out his car in the Elmwood Village neighborhood of Buffalo, N.Y. Monday, Dec. 26, 2022, after a massive snow storm blanketed the city. Along with drifts and travel bans, many streets were impassible due to abandoned vehicles. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
After New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul toured the aftermath of the storm in Buffalo, which is also her hometown, she called the blizzard "one for the ages," The Associated Press reported.
The ferocious wintry weather in Buffalo was the result of a bomb cyclone that brought subfreezing temperatures and strong winds from the Plains to the East Coast. About 60% of the country was under some sort of winter weather advisory or warning, and new temperature records were recorded in multiple cities.
Temperatures plummeted more than 30 degrees in less than an hour across the Rockies and northern Plains. Denver was around 50 degrees Wednesday afternoon before the weather changed in a potentially historic way. Temperatures dropped rapidly between 3:53 p.m. and 4:35 p.m. local time, going from 42 degrees Fahrenheit to 5 degrees F.
According to preliminary data taken from Denver International Airport, the observed 37-degree temperature fall would be the largest one-hour drop in the station's history. The previous biggest one-hour drop was from 41 degrees to 6 degrees in the afternoon of Jan. 27, 2007.
The mercury plummeted below zero by 6 p.m., and would go all the way down to 24 degrees F below zero at the Denver Airport Thursday morning, for a total plunge of 73 degrees.
Cheyenne, Wyoming, also recorded its greatest one-hour temperature drop on record last Wednesday when it went from 43 degrees to 3 in just 30 minutes.
Combined with gusty winds, AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures dropped dangerously low across the country. On Wednesday, Cut Bank, Montana, recorded an AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature of 69 degrees F below zero.
On Thursday, AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures dropped as low as 43 degrees below zero in northern Texas and 46 degrees below zero in Chicago.
Over 6.3 million customers lost power at one point or another across the country as the Arctic air blew into the U.S. North Carolina, Tennessee and Maine were among some of the states with the most power outages, according to PowerOutage.US. Some outages were caused by rolling blackouts as power companies struggled to create enough energy to meet demands amid the coldest conditions.
As the winter storm barreled down on the country during one of the busiest travel times of the year, thousands of flights were canceled, leaving many stranded. On Monday, just over 4,000 flights were canceled and more than 9,000 flights had been delayed, according to FlightAware. According to the site, more than half of the canceled flights came from Southwest Airlines, which had a total of 2,497 cancellations.
Baggage waits to be claimed after canceled flights at the Southwest Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on Monday, Dec. 26, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Eugene Garcia)
"With consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our customers and employees in a significant way that is unacceptable," Southwest Airlines wrote in a press release on Monday. "We're working with safety at the forefront to urgently address wide-scale disruption by rebalancing the airline and repositioning crews and our fleet ultimately to best serve all who plan to travel with us."
More travel headaches came on Tuesday. On Tuesday flight cancellations ended up totaling just over 5,000 with nearly 20,000 being delayed, the majority coming from Southwest Airlines. Never-ending lines were being reported at airports across the county on Tuesday. Thousands of pieces of luggage are waiting to be claimed in numerous airports as flight cancellations continue. Another 4,000 flights have already been canceled for Wednesday.
AccuWeather meteorologists say that milder conditions are forecast to spread across most of the eastern U.S. by the week's end, just in time for New Year's Eve. Noticeably warmer conditions are expected in cities like Dallas and Oklahoma City by Wednesday. The warmup will arrive in the Ohio Valley Thursday, and by Friday it will reach the Eastern Seaboard.
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