Deadly snows of Buffalo giving way to dread of thaw and floods as United States reels under Lake Erie's Arctic blast
A deadly snowfall that crippled parts of New York state is finally expected to stop - but people now face the threat of massive flooding as temperatures rise through the weekend.
Roofs creaked and collapsed and people toiled to clear waist-high snow drifts atop their houses as another storm continued to bury Buffalo and western New York state, which remained paralysed by the white-out.
Even for the Buffalo area, one of America's snowiest places, the snowfall was historic, as the three-day total neared 8ft, the amount the region typically gets over a year. Some areas had close to 3ft of new snow by last night.
The storms were blamed for at least 10 deaths in western New York, mostly from exposure and heart attacks, including several people who were shovelling snow.
Things could quickly get worse for the region on Lake Erie. Rain and temperatures as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 Celsius) were forecast over the weekend, raising the spectre of flooding and an even heavier load on roofs.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo begged drivers to stay off slippery, car-clogged roads while crews tried to dig out.
With roads impassable, driving bans in effect and the Buffalo Bills' stadium buried in snow, the National Football League decided to move the Bills' Sunday home game against the New York Jets to Monday night in Detroit, Michigan. Earliery, Mr Cuomo said holding the game would jeopardise public safety.
More than 50 people were evacuated from several mobile home parks because roofs were buckling. In one town authorities said more than a dozen structures collapsed, as did a metal warehouse operated by a Christmas decorations company.
About 180 residents of an assisted living complex were evacuated after staff members noticed the ceiling bulging under the weight of the snow.
Homeowners and store staff climbed on to roofs to shovel off the snow and reduce the danger.
National Guardsmen drove nurses to work their hospital shifts, state police helped the elderly trapped in their homes and 463 snowploughss, 129 loaders and 40 dump trucks were assembled from across the state.
A stretch of the New York State Thruway, the state's main highway, remained closed, with more than 300 lorry drivers idled.
With deliveries interrupted, some grocery stores reported running low on staples like bread and milk.
"No matter how you cut it, this event will end up in the top five for the Lake Erie area," said National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini.
It is believed that at least ten people have lost their lives as a result of the unseasonably cold weather, with care homes evacuated in the Buffalo area and the National Football League moving a scheduled game from the local stadium to Detroit.
The latest snowfall adds to an estimated five feet already on the ground and meteorologists warned that western residents of New York could expect another 30 inches in the coming hours, with snow and below freezing temperatures expected to continue until midday Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
It is believed the freezing weather is the result of a sharp southward dip in the jet stream that has pulled cold air down from the Artic. The phenomenon, known as a “polar vortex”, has been enhanced in Buffalo – one of the worst affected areas – by the “lake effect”, as warm air off nearby Lake Erie has reacted with the drastically cooler air to produce huge snowfalls.
“This is western New York; we’re used to it,” Jack Fasanella, an Erie County resident, told The New York Times. “But this is the worst I’ve ever seen. Even worse than the blizzard of ’77.”
The 1977 blizzard killed 23 people in western New York and five more in the north of the state. National forecasters recorded daily peak wind gusts of 46 to 69 mph and up to eight feet of snowfall over a three day period at the end of January.
States of emergency have been declared in 10 counties as rescue crews mobilise across the nation to provide much needed help to trapped residents.
A driver attempts to navigate the roads in North-Eastern America A driver attempts to navigate the roads in North-Eastern America
Erie County Deputy Executive Richard Tobe warned that roof collapses posed a threat, especially at mobile home parks. Nearly 180 elderly residents were evacuated from a care home earlier in the week, after careers noticed the ceiling bulging from the weight of snow.
"With this heavy snow load now, there are buildings that are in danger," Mr Tobe said.
Will the killer snows pose threat to the UK?
The snowstorms and low temperatures are the result of a sharp southward dip in the jet stream, pulling cold air down from the Arctic in what is often described as a “polar vortex”.
In Buffalo, New York, the impact of the cold front has been enhanced by the “lake effect”, where warm water coming off Lake Eyrie reacts with the drastically-colder air above to force massive snowfalls.
Around five feet (1.6m) of snow fell in some parts of Buffalo on Wednesday, and an additional three feet (1m) were forecast for Thursday night and Friday.
The impact has been deadly – at least eight deaths in New York state have been attributed to the storm, including one on Wednesday when a man collapsed while operating a snowblower.
With residents of New York state warned that things will “get worse before they get better”, people in Britain have naturally been wondering whether the bad weather will make its way over to the UK.
But in a blog post today, the Met Office said that it is “by no means always the case” that American weather will “arrive in the UK a few days later”.
UK forecasters have put in place only a couple of severe weather warnings for a “further period of prolonged rain” into the weekend.
And the Met Office said: “In this instance, there’s high confidence that the cold snowy weather will stay on the western side of the Atlantic.
“In past winters similar weather situations in the US have strengthened the jet stream and increased the risk of storms across our shores. [But] again, in this instance, this isn’t expected at the moment.
“What we do expect to see is further changeable weather over the coming few days,” it added.
Belfast Telegraph Digital