BUFFALO - Roads and schools were closed and flights canceled across upstate New York today as a blizzard slammed the western part of the state, while dangerously cold temperatures gripped eastern areas from the Adirondacks to New York City.
The storm had dumped an estimated 15 to 18 inches of snow in some areas of western New York by this morning, with winds gusting up to 50 mph making travel "difficult if not impossible," National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Hibbert said.
Up to 3 feet of Lake Erie-generated snow was expected in some areas around Buffalo, and as much as 4 feet could fall near the eastern end of Lake Ontario by the time the storm eases up Wednesday, he said. But it was the sustained, window-rattling, whiteout-producing wind that forced schools, stores, doctors' offices, museums and courts closed.
"This is an out-of-the-ordinary event, even for Buffalo," Hibbert said. "It's been 20 years since we had blizzard warnings of this magnitude in this area."
About a 75-mile stretch of Interstate 81 north of Syracuse to the Canadian border also closed indefinitely. I-81 cuts through the Tug Hill Plateau region where 4 to 5 feet of snow was forecast by the time the storm subsides Wednesday.
State police in Watertown said numerous vehicles were stuck along local roads, with troopers and sheriff's deputies working with tow truck drivers to remove the stranded drivers.
A more than 130-mile stretch of Interstate 90 in western New York was closed from just south of Rochester to the Pennsylvania line because of poor visibility. The blowing snow led to travel bans across much of western New York and areas north of Syracuse. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for 14 counties.
The weather service's blizzard warning for the city of Buffalo and surrounding areas was in place until 6 a.m. Wednesday.
About 15 truckers were waiting out the storm at Jim's Travel Plaza outside Buffalo, according to a waitress who said she was too busy serving the drivers to give her name. Richard Merbler, a driver for Ace Hardware based out of Saratoga County, said the wind was "blowing like the devil" in Niagara Falls this morning, but conditions were even worse the night before along the Thruway between Rochester and Buffalo.
"Batavia last night wasn't fit for a dog when I was there. You couldn't see," Merbler told The Associated Press.
The snow and below-zero wind chills weren't the only threats. Forecasters issued a flash flood warning for Niagara Falls and Grand Island after an ice jam formed in the upper Niagara River because of the high winds, causing water levels to rise. Ice breaking vessels from the New York Power Authority and Ontario Power Generation worked through the night Monday and throughout today.
The National Hockey League canceled tonight's game between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes, even though the Hurricanes made it to town ahead of the storm. The game will be played later in the year.
Hundreds of schools from the state's southwestern corner to the Hudson Valley were closed because of the weather, most due to the blizzard conditions in western areas but others because of temperatures in the single digits and wind chills well below zero.
Associated Press writer Chris Carola in Albany contributed to this report.