While the northern Plains and Northeast shiver in dangerously cold temperatures, the folks in upstate New York are keeping warm shoveling snow — lots of snow.
Since Sunday, the small towns of Parish and Mexico have recorded more than 6 feet of snow, and forecasters with the National Weather Service say it isn’t over yet.
The area received short reprieve Thursday as the squalls shifted south into Syracuse, where between 4 and 8 inches fell. The lake-effect bands were expected to move back north overnight and strengthen.
“We’re just trying to keep up. It’s almost an unreal amount,” said Mayor Randy Bateman of Oswego, where 70 inches of snow had fallen by Thursday morning. “We catch up when it stops, but then it just comes again, even heavier.”
Gov. Eliot Spitzer declared a state disaster emergency for the county Thursday, authorizing all state agencies to help assist municipalities and residents in the storm-wracked region along eastern Lake Ontario.
Whiteout conditions — the snow has been falling at a rate of 5 inches an hour at times — forced state police to temporarily close Interstate 81 between Central Square and Pulaski, a stretch of about 15 miles. Travel advisories against unnecessary travel were posted for Oswego and its neighboring counties. Mexico officials renewed a snow emergency declaration, and many government offices were closed.
Oswego goes slow
Schools were closed for a fourth day in Oswego and Mexico.
According to the National Weather Service, the top snowfalls were in Parish with 77 inches and neighboring Mexico, which had 72 inches. There were unconfirmed reports of 82 inches in Redfield.
In Oswego, a big concern was keeping the city’s 800 fire hydrants clear, said Fire Chief Ed Geers.
“We’re just trying to keep on top of digging out the hydrants. When you get 5 feet of snow in 24 hours, it’s tough,” Geers said.
'Right through the weekend'
Forecasters early Thursday said they expected up to 100 inches in places by the end of the weekend, but said the snow emergency still has a way to go to make history.
"We are shying away from calling this a record event," Mike Pukajlo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo, said Wednesday.
"There are several areas in that region that often get hammered during a winter. Seventy, eighty inches is uncommon for sure, but it's not highly unusual, especially over a several-day event like this," Pukajlo said.
Pukajlo said snow squalls "will keep going right through the weekend. But we expect to see the bands moving around a bit more, back and forth, so it's not going to keep pounding on just one area."
Lake effect snow forms when cold air passes over a relatively warmer body of water. When this week's arctic blast passed over the still unfrozen Great Lakes — including New York's Erie and Ontario — it created a recipe for monstrous snow totals. In the Great Lakes Region, cold air generally "spills" southward from the high latitudes of North America.
Temperatures in the Northeast inched back up to something closer to normal for this time of year, but the upper Midwest and northern Plains still awoke to subzero temperatures Thursday — minus-12 in Minneapolis and 3 below zero in Chicago.
The bitter cold and slippery roads have contributed to at least 20 deaths — five in Ohio, four in Illinois, four in Indiana, two in Kentucky, two in Michigan, and one each in Wisconsin, New York and Maryland, authorities said.
In West Virginia, where as much as 9 inches of snow has fallen, some schools that had been closed were able to reopen on Thursday, but in most of the state, classes were still delayed, and in a few counties, cancelled. Officials had to call snowplow drivers out of retirement Wednesday to clear the roads.
The weather also disrupted travelers, leaving some stranded overnight in airports in the Midwest after flights to the Northeast were disrupted.