A “once-in-a-lifetime” blizzard has killed at least 55 people in the United States, including 25 in western New York’s Erie County, officials said Monday morning.
The number of deaths from the monstrous storm was expected to grow as snow continued to blanket Erie County, leaving roads in many areas impassable, including the majority of Buffalo, County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference.
“We can see sort of the light at the end of the tunnel, but this is not the end yet,” Poloncarz said. “We are not there.”
Snow was expected to fall in Erie County into Tuesday afternoon. Nationwide, temperatures plummeted, and huge snow drifts have trapped people inside their homes and snarled travel.
Stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the Mexican border, the storm has killed at least 50 people as of Monday morning, according to an NBC News tally. The deaths were recorded in 12 states: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
On Monday morning, a “band of heavy lake effect snow” in the Buffalo area was producing 2 to 3 inches of hourly snowfall, with accumulations reaching 6 to 12 inches and as much as 1 to 2 feet for Jefferson and northern Lewis counties, the National Weather Service said in its 6:43 a.m. bulletin.
“Lake effect” occurs when when cold air passes over the unfrozen and warmer lake water, causing moisture and warmth being transferring to the lower parts of the atmosphere. The air then rises to form clouds, resulting in intense snowfall.
Buffalo police, confirming a total of 10 deaths in the city, said on Sunday that people had died “outside and in cars.” The toll had risen to 14 in the city on Monday morning, a spokesperson for the city of Buffalo told NBC News.
Blinding blizzards and freezing rain have also knocked out power supply for thousands of residents across New York state, with 15,000 people in the Buffalo National Grid remaining without electricity, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said.
“Restoration may not occur until Tuesday,” she said.
Thousands of service crew had been deployed to deal with the emergency, which was probably “the largest mobilization of utility crews in the history of the state,” she said.
Temperatures have plummeted below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians. More than 1,200 flights had been canceled by early Monday, with at least 500 delayed, according to the tracking website FlightAware, trapping holiday travelers in airports across the country.
The National Weather Service said “hazardous travel conditions” were expected to continue over the next few days and that they would slowly ease over the new year.
“Much of the eastern U.S. will remain in a deep freeze through Monday before a moderating trend sets in on Tuesday,” it said in a 2:56 a.m. bulletin.
“The life-threatening cold temperatures and in combination with dangerous wind chills will create a potentially life-threatening hazard for travelers that become stranded, individuals that work outside, livestock and domestic pets,” the National Weather Service said.
The western parts of the country were also bracing for an incoming storm, with forecasters warning of a “potent surge of moisture” into the Pacific northwestern and California on Tuesday, threatening flash floods.
In a tweet, the weather service said that cold and snow will become “distant memories” for Chicago as temperatures are expected to rise throughout the week, anticipating pouring rain.