Early Buffalo Lake Effect Snowstorm Closes Thruway, Leaves Area Residents Homebound

Art Hauret

Residents of the Buffalo area are accustomed to large amounts of snow and strong winds; however, this latest storm shook the region to its core.

A violent lake effect snow storm, dubbed the “Knife,” tore through the region earlier this week, leaving the area buried under several feet of snow. The storm wreaked havoc on the area, coming in so fast and with such ferocity that 150 vehicles, including a bus carrying Niagara University’s women’s basketball team, were trapped along a 132-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway.

Cars, trucks, and buses were stranded in nearly four feet of snow along a four-mile section near Buffalo. Some motorists were trapped in the paralyzing ordeal for over 20 hours — some up to 35 — waiting for help to come, but even emergency vehicles had difficulty navigating through the storm.

According to the State Department of Transportation, the Thruway may remain closed until at least Friday, while local officials continue to work with National Guard in order to coordinate disaster relief. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to visit the area in order to survey the damage.

However, Buffalonians are a hearty people, and they banded together to weather the storm. In South Buffalo, Brian Krzeminski watched as foot after foot of snow piled up in front of his convenience store. Working overnight, he served free coffee to pedestrians and motorists who in came in seeking warmth and protection from the storm. “There are people that came out to get a few things. We had some people who came in just to get a 30-pack of beer, which is kind of odd,” he said. “We’ve had EMTs whose ambulance got stuck. I’m constantly seeing cars get stuck.” 

Residents were encouraged to check on their elderly neighbors, and to bring them food if necessary, as Meals on Wheels was closed due to poor road conditions.

The storm has already claimed at least six lives, three of which were attributed to heart attacks. In the Buffalo suburb of Hamburg, firefighters had to carry a patient by foot 10 blocks to South Buffalo Mercy Hospital. Due to the several feet of snow that fell in South Buffalo, it was not possible to reach or leave the hospital by vehicle.

While it’s common to see a surge in emergency room patients during natural disasters and severe storms, urgent care centers often experience the same influx of patients. Urgent care has continued to play an essential role in the American healthcare system, with some facilities offering many of the same services as hospital emergency departments, but at a lower cost, since the average emergency room visit costs an average of $1,500, while the average cost of treatment at an urgent care center is under $150. 

Patients who are experiencing life-threatening health conditions, such as a heart attack due to overexertion while shoveling out from under a big storm, should still seek out emergency care.

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