Storm-battered Buffalo is counting fatalities and trying to recover after the deadliest storm in western New York in at least two generations roared across the region on Friday and Saturday (23 and 24 December).
County Executive Mark Poloncarz called the blizzard “the worst storm probably in our lifetime”, even in an area known for heavy snowfall, as people continue to search for cars buried in snow drifts and more victims after one of the worst weather-related disasters ever to hit the western part of the US state.
While the rest of the US is also reeling from ferocious winter storms, with additional deaths reported in other parts of the country, the Buffalo area - on the US/Canada border - has been particularly hard hit, with the recent storm coming a little over a month after the region was inundated with a previous “historic” snowfall.
Here is everything you need to know about it.
How many people have died?
Officials have reported that more than 30 people have died in the Buffalo area, including seven storm-related deaths reported by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s office on Tuesday (27 December).
The dead were found in cars, homes and snowbanks. Some had died while shovelling snow, others when emergency crews could not respond in time to medical crises.
The death toll surpasses that of the historic blizzard of 1977, blamed for killing as many as 29 people in a region known for harsh winter weather.
There have been at least an additional two dozen deaths reported across the rest of the US as a result of the fierce winter storms, and power cuts in communities from Maine to Washington state. At least 49 people have died across the country.
But the Buffalo region - situated on the US’ border with Canada - has been particularly hard hit, with the recent winter storm coming a little over a month after the region was inundated with a previous “historic” snowfall.
How much snow has fallen?
Between the recent winter storms seen in Buffalo, snowfall totals have not been far off the 95.4 inches (242cm) the area normally sees in an entire winter season. The National Weather Service said the snow total at Buffalo Niagara International Airport stood at 49.2 inches (1.25 metres) on Monday (26 December).
New York governor Kathy Hochul toured the aftermath in her hometown, calling the blizzard “one for the ages”. She said almost every fire engine in the city became stranded on Christmas Eve.
State and military police have been sent to keep people off Buffalo’s snow-choked roads. Though suburban roads have reopened and emergency response service has been restored, police are stationed at entrances to Buffalo city and at major intersections to enforce a ban on driving.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, “Too many people are ignoring the ban.”
Some 3,410 domestic and international flights were cancelled in America on 26 December, according to the tracking site FlightAware. The site said Southwest Airlines had 2,497 cancellations – about 60% of its scheduled flights and about 10 times higher than any other major US carrier.
The US Department of Transportation has said it will look into cancellations by Southwest Airlines that had left travellers stranded at airports across the country amid the storm.
What has caused the storms?
Scientists say climate change may have contributed to the intensity of the storm. According to Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Centre at the University of Colorado, this is because the atmosphere can carry more water vapour, which acts as fuel.
Ashton Robinson Cook, a meteorologist with the US National Weather Service, said relief from the biting weather conditions is forecast for later in the week, with a slow rise in temperatures predicted.
Cook said the “bomb cyclone” effect – when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm – developed near the Great Lakes and stirred up blizzard conditions, but has since weakened.
Where is Buffalo?
Buffalo is New York state’s second most populous city, and lies in the west of the state near the US border with Canada, at the eastern end of Lake Erie.
It is situated roughly 20 miles south of the famous Niagara Falls, which themselves have been affected by the sub-zero temperatures.
Aerial photographs of the area have shown the usually roaring waterfalls transformed into a partially frozen winter wonderland, with freezing mist and sheets of ice blanketing parts of the iconic tourist destination and offering a beautiful respite to the very human toll taken by the cold weather.