Video: Winter weather wreaks havoc

  1. Closed captioning of: Winter weather wreaks havoc

    >>> if you have spent time on the east, you might know what is lake-effect snow is. well, it has started in earnest for the season, and a whole lot of people are paying dearly tonight and have been since last night. our own ron alan has made his way to an i-90 overpass in west seneca , new york. ron , how are we holding up there?

    >> reporter: the conditions out here are tough. heavy snow is falling. there's two feet or more on the ground in some areas and the big question is behind me. that's i-90. and you can see the lights of a long line of cars and trucks sitting there in gridlock. it started last night around 8:00 when a big truck jackknifed and crashed, blocking hundreds of cars and motorists, leaving them stranded, many through the night and through the day. it is the first major snow tomorrstorm of the season for upstate new york . drivers stranded, sharing mare misery on cell phones on the local evening news.

    >> the state troopers came through and they said it will be a while.

    >> well, we started building a snowman.

    >> reporter: this woman sat in traffic for more than 11 hours.

    >> it just halted to a stop right around 9:30, quarter till 10:00 . that's where i sat all night until this morning.

    >> reporter: the blizzard conditions are the latest act of a powerful storm that swept up the eastern seaboard , starting with tornadoes in the southeast. more than 50 homes destroyed outside atlanta. in buffalo, near the great lakes, all the white stuff is what's known as lake-effect snow. lake-effect snow happens when you have cold, arctic air pouring over that warmer lake water which right now is in the low to mid 40s, picks up that moisture and dumps it, creating these lake-effect bands.

    >> reporter: new york state police say they have no idea when the massive traffic jam will be cleared. but they are giving it all they've got.

    >> our main objective is get this road open, east bound and west bound, continue to use our atvs to check stranded motorists, make sure no one is in harm's way and hopefully by this evening this will be the tip of the buffalo knife.

    >> reporter: they are making some progress. at one point the jam stretched for ten miles, it's down to about four miles. the problem now is getting the big trucks out of here. a lot of people, of course, are very tired, angry and frustrated to understand how this could have happened. brian, back to you.

    >> we're hoping for the best for all those folks in their vehicles. ron alan, thanks.

Image: Trucks stuck on highway
David Duprey  /  AP
Vehicles are stranded on the New York State Thruway during a winter storm in Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday.
updated 12/3/2010 12:35:51 AM ET 2010-12-03T05:35:51

Hundreds of cold and hungry motorists spent hours Thursday stranded on a western New York highway after an accident caused a backup and the idling trucks and cars got stuck in heavy snow.

A Lake Erie-fed storm that began Wednesday and continued through Thursday buried parts of Buffalo and some suburbs under more than 2 feet of snow. Downtown Buffalo was largely spared. Dozens of schools canceled classes and more were scheduled to be closed on Friday.

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Police closed Interstate 90 about 3 a.m. Thursday after a truck jackknifed the previous evening and vehicles became backed up and buried in blowing snow, State Trooper Daniel Golinski said. Drivers also were stranded on a 3-mile stretch of Interstate 190.

Golinski described the scene overnight as "13 miles of bumper-to-bumper cars, two lanes each — three lanes each depending on where they are."

Though parts of I-90, better known as the New York Thruway, were reopened by midday, an 11-mile stretch remained closed as darkness fell. Traffic, mostly big rigs, was backed up for about two miles in the eastbound lanes and a mile headed west after sunset. Authorities expected it would take several more hours to clear the mess.

The snowfall was expected to stop early Friday after leaving another 4 to 8 inches, which would total up to 32 inches for some communities.

Jack Geiselman, who was stranded for 14 hours in 32-degree weather, took it all in stride.

"I tend not to be a ranter-and-raver about things and the point is, it's nothing I have any control over," the 60-year-old semi-retired civil engineer said. "I guess the way I look at it is, it's over. I guess stuff happens. It's not the end of the world."

Geiselman was traveling in a Honda Civic from Keene, N.Y., to Cleveland with his black lab Boomer to help his daughter get her house ready for a baby due between Christmas and New Year. He had with him a sleeping bag and plenty of warm clothing and gas. He said state troopers came by with coffee and food for people in cars.

Emergency crews on ATVs passed out water and protein bars, and buses picked up motorists and delivered them to a shelter at a senior citizen center.

State Police had no reports of medical emergencies, although one older motorist who uses oxygen was among the stranded and was taken to safety, said Capt. Michael Nigrelli.

Not to be discouraged, two truck drivers who left their tandems idling in the morning tramped through the snow for about half a mile to pick up a breakfast sandwich and coffee off the highway. They seemed almost cheerful despite the hit on their livelihood.

"The wheels are not moving and we're making nothing," said Don Lanphere, 51, a trucker for 32 years who was hauling dog food. "The only guys making money are the plow operators."

"I had the radio on listening," said Curt Doverspike, 40, a trucker from Jamestown. "They said we should be getting out soon. Nothing ever happened so we just went to bed, woke up this morning. We're just kind of used to it."

He said regular travelers were venting their frustrations but the truck drivers were calmer.

"There's traffic jams, accidents all the time," Doverspike said. "You just get used to it. I guess it's easier for us than those in the cars because they get frustrated. We have a bed. If we get bored, we lay down and go to bed."

Nigrelli said the combination of fast-falling snow and the large number of commercial vehicles — many of which had to be towed out after the snow piled up around them — made re-opening the road slow-going.

"Unfortunately, that's not something that can be undone very quickly," he said.

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Some truckers left the road to find refuge at truck stops, parking lots and city streets, but most kept their rigs parked on the highway, especially the tandem drivers.

Matt Welling was hauling a double tractor-trailer full of groceries when traffic came to a standstill. He spent the night "sitting back, playing a little Solitaire on the computer, taking a nap," the Wegmans driver said after more than eight hours stuck on the road.

"I'm pretty chilly, hungry. A nice cup of coffee would do pretty well right now," he said by cell phone.

Driving restrictions were in place in southern Buffalo and suburban Cheektowaga, Depew, Lancaster and West Seneca, where bands of snow hung stubbornly overhead.

A snow warning was in effect until late Thursday night, with several more inches possible before the storm was expected to drift south, meteorologists said. Additional snow was in Friday's forecast, though in lesser amounts.

In Cattaraugus County on New York's southwestern edge, flooding was the problem following heavy rain. Two emergency shelters were opened, in Olean and Portville, as the Allegheny River reached moderate flood stage. Between 50 and 100 homes were affected, said Stephanie Timblin, spokeswoman for the county's Office of Emergency Services.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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