ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Relentless lake-effect storms pounded parts of northwestern Pennsylvania and upstate New York on Wednesday, with close to four feet of snow falling in the Syracuse area since the weekend and forecasters calling for more snow into Thursday.
Dozens of schools in and around Syracuse were closed as police reported numerous accidents on highways and roads. Troopers said an accident involving three tractor-trailers on the New York State Thruway just west of Syracuse closed the highway's westbound lanes for about five hours Tuesday night.
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The National Weather Service said Wednesday morning the most snow — 47 inches — was recorded in suburban Clay. Two other upstate locations had upward of 4 feet by Wednesday morning, the weather service said: Randolph in New York's southwest corner and Laconia, near Lake Ontario's eastern end.
"I've had about seven hours off since Sunday, and that's with four trucks," tow truck driver Clay Russell said Wednesday morning as he helped a woman with a flat tire on Syracuse's snowbound west side. "And it's not even winter yet."
Intense lake-effect snowstorms are typical for late fall and early winter, when cold air rushes over warmer water. The threat is lessened later in the season when ice forms on the lakes.
Mitch Gilt, a weather service meteorologist in Binghamton, said the current weather pattern started out as a low-pressure system that swept through the Great Lakes region before stalling over eastern Canada, combined with winds out of the northwest that spawned the bands of snow blowing off lakes Erie and Ontario.
By Thursday afternoon, between 50 inches and 60 inches of snow will have fallen on some places, he said.
"It's probably going to fall somewhere in the top two or three lake-effect snow events they've had in Syracuse, at least since they've keeping records up at the airport," he said.
The driving conditions along Interstate 90 in the Syracuse area went from "terrible" to "not too bad" in the span of just a couple of hours, according to state police. But given the fickle nature of lake-effect storms, conditions could get worse quickly.
"Call me back in five minutes and it will be different, depending on where the wind direction is coming from," said Sgt. Robin Urbaniak.
A lake-effect snow warning was in effect for Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties south of Buffalo and in McKean County, Pa., just across the state line. Forecasters said 5 to 8 more inches of snow was possible during the day Wednesday, with another 5 to 8 inches possible overnight.
In Pennsylvania, the tiny northwestern towns of Blooming Valley had 35 inches of snow and Corry had 31 inches, with more expected Wednesday. Police responded to several accidents caused by slippery roads or reports of large trucks having difficulty navigating steep hills. No serious injuries were reported.
But folks in the small towns south of Bufflo, N.Y., and Erie, Pa., are used to big snows, so schools in Corry were only on a two-hour delay Wednesday. Still, it was a little early in the season to get so much snow, said the town's administrator, Gerry Dahl.
He said there are 11 people who plow the town of about 5 square miles. On Tuesday, they sent the workers home to get some rest because they had been working around the clock.
"The challenge now certainly becomes where to put it. There's just really little room," Dahl said.
About 20 inches had fallen in Bradford, about 95 miles east of Erie. That's the same amount the town usually gets each year in the entire month of December.
Bradford officials said it's been hard for plows to keep the roads clear because at times the snow was falling at 2 inches an hour.
The snow has since slowed, but it's not gone completely. Forecasts call for a chance of snow in most areas of northwestern Pennsylvania through Friday.
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