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How Buffalo cleared 80 inches of snow almost as fast as it fell

The rapid-fire cleanup brought together counties, towns, New York state and partners in the contracting business.Mark Mulville/Associated Press

Less than 48 hours since the historic snowfall around Buffalo, many of the hardest hit communities are back on their feet.

A monumental effort to clear up to 6 1/2-half feet of snow is nearly complete, an effort that involved armies of people, hundreds of plows, loaders, snowblowers, and tracked vehicles, and one four-story mountain of cleared snow.

Mark Poloncarz, Erie County’s executive, reported that all major highways, arterial roads and secondary routes are now open.

“Now we’re just kind of touching up and finishing the work that needs to be done to ensure that every neighborhood has been cleared,” Poloncarz said Monday.


Erie County, which includes Buffalo, received some of the most astronomical snow amounts from the lake-effect snow event, which also walloped areas downwind of Lake Ontario with up to 6 feet of snow.

In Erie County, the National Weather Service received a report of 81.2 inches in Hamburg, N.Y., which is 15 miles south of Buffalo. At one point, snow was pounding the ground at upward of five inches per hour. In Orchard Park, home to the Buffalo Bills, 80 inches was reported.

Around Hamburg and Orchard Park, 60 inches fell between Thursday night and Friday night alone, probably setting a new 24-hour state record.

Matthew Latko, the division director for the New York State Thruway Authority in Buffalo, who has lived in the city for nearly 34 years, called it “the biggest storm ever.” He raved about his team’s response.

"I don't think anybody in the country put in what our guys did and the recovery time that we had," he said.

The rapid-fire cleanup brought together counties, towns, New York state and partners in the contracting business.

Teams from the New York Thruway Authority in Buffalo and the New York State Department of Transportation worked around-the-clock pushing snow from the roads to snow storage areas on road shoulders during whiteout conditions. There were large chunks of time where workers couldn’t see past the hood of their cars, Latko said.


Trucks that couldn't plow the dense snow lifted and pushed the white heaps off the road. Overflowing snow was also moved into dump trailers and taken to abandoned parking lots or other open spaces in heaps.

"As of right now, there is a pile of snow that's four and a half stories tall at one of our community colleges that we're using as a dump site," Poloncarz said.

Over 500 plow trucks from the state were deployed to roadways across the region, according to Marie Therese Dominguez, the Department of Transportation commissioner. Mechanics from around the state maintained heavy equipment all weekend and safety representatives made sure workers were trained.

Before the snow covered the ground, layers of brine, a very high concentration of salty water, were lathered onto the roads to prevent hard layers of snow from becoming hardly packed.

In addition to the efforts from government agencies, neighbors helped neighbors.

Nick Belles, 26, a plowman clearing commercial lots in Buffalo's south towns, said he got a total of three hours of sleep during a three-day stretch. He kept himself up chugging coffee.

"Just trying to stay going," he said.

The snow came so heavy, he switched from plowing with a pickup to using a backhoe and other heavy equipment.

This was the biggest storm to hit Buffalo since November 2014, when communities south of Buffalo were blanketed in 7 feet of snow over the course of three days. That storm claimed 14 lives.


The paralyzing storm in 2014 forced nearly 300 New York National Guard members to step in to remove the snow. The snow piles from the storm lingered until July.

This time, Poloncarz believes the region was better prepared.

“It’s been a monumental effort,” he said. “I don’t think there are many parts of the United States that could have responded to this type of storm and recovered as quickly as we have.”