A deadly blizzard paralyzed Buffalo, New York, on Christmas Day, trapping motorists in their cars, knocking out electricity to thousands of homes and raising the death toll from a severe winter storm system that has chilled the United States for days.
At least 30 people have died in U.S. weather-related incidents, according to an NBC News tally, since a deep freeze extended its grip over most of the nation coupled with snow, ice and howling winds from a storm that roared out of the Great Lakes region last week.
Much of the toll has centred in and around Buffalo at the edge of Lake Erie in western New York, where a driving ban remained in effect as heavy "lake-effect" snow — the result of cold air moving over warmer lake waters — and numbing cold continued through the holiday weekend.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the death toll from the storm had more than doubled to seven from three overnight in the Buffalo region. The four reported dead on Sunday morning included some found in cars and some in snow banks, Poloncarz said, adding that the death count might still rise.
Hundreds of Erie County motorists were stranded in their vehicles over the weekend, with National Guard troops called in to help with rescues, Poloncarz said.
"This is not the Christmas any of us hoped for nor expected," Poloncarz said on Twitter on Sunday. "My deepest condolences to the families who have lost loved ones.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul told reporters on Sunday that the Biden administration had agreed to support her request for a federal disaster declaration.Some 200 National Guard troops were mobilized in western New York, providing relief to police and fire crews, conducting wellness checks and bringing supplies to shelters, with more on the way, Hochul said.
Two days of white-out conditions in western New York had made rescue efforts nearly impossible at times, officials said.
The storm was moving east on Sunday, after knocking out power to millions late last week and forcing thousands of commercial flight cancellations during the busy holiday travel period.
More than 150,000 U.S. homes and businesses were without power on Sunday, down sharply from the 1.8 million without power as of early Saturday, according to PowerOutage.us. In Buffalo, 16% of residents had no electricity on Sunday, officials said.
In Canada, electricity was also out to at least 140,000 utility customers, mostly in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, hard hit by the same weather system that buried western New York in snow.
More than 1,700 flights in the United States were cancelled as of midday Sunday, according to flight tracker FlightAware.
Christmas Day temperatures, while beginning to rebound from near-zero readings that were widespread on Saturday, remained well below average across the central and eastern United States, and below freezing even as far south as the Gulf Coast, National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Rich Otto said.
The Buffalo airport had recorded nearly four feet of snow by Sunday, the Weather Service said. White-out conditions persisted south of Buffalo on Sunday afternoon, with snow falling at the rate of 2-3 inches an hour.
In Kentucky, officials confirmed at least three storm-related deaths since Friday, while at least four people were dead and several injured in auto-related accidents in Ohio, where a 50-vehicle pileup shut down the Ohio Turnpike in both directions during a blizzard near Toledo on Friday.
Other deaths related to the extreme cold or weather-induced vehicle accidents were reported in Missouri, Tennessee, Kansas and Colorado, according to news reports.
A Christmas Eve bus crash that police said was likely due to icy road conditions near Loon Lake in Canada's British Columbia killed four people and left dozens hospitalized, authorities confirmed on Sunday.