Residents across parts of northern Oswego, Jefferson and Lewis counties are digging out after more than three feet of lake effect snow fell in less than 24 hours. The snow was so heavy at times Thursday, the city of Watertown had to pull its plows from city streets.
According to the National Weather Service, more than 36 inches fell in South Watertown, with more than 20 inches falling in just seven hours.
Large trucks and buses were banned from Interstate 81 from the Canadian border to the Mexico exit, which pushed many large vehicles onto Route 11 in Jefferson and Oswego counties, with a number of those vehicles ending up off the road because of the heavy snow.
The winter storm that delivered heavy snow and biting cold was blamed Thursday for at least three deaths and possibly a fourth, that of a homeless man whose frozen body was found in a suburban Buffalo bus shelter.
Two men died clearing snow, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, and a 59-year-old man was killed when his vehicle hit a snowdrift and then slammed into a pole in Livingston County, south of Rochester, state police said.
The victims’ names weren’t immediately released.
An autopsy was planned to determine whether the homeless man found in the village of Williamsville froze to death or died of another cause.
Lake-effect snow continued to fall in areas of western New York Thursday, blown by winds of more than 30 miles per hour. The combination produced a second day of treacherous driving conditions and subzero wind chills. More than 20 inches of snow was recorded at the Buffalo airport since Tuesday evening.
A ban on trucks and commercial buses on the western section of the Thruway was lifted Thursday night. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had earlier vowed to crack down on violators a day after a tractor-trailer crash near Rochester caused a major pileup that left a trooper with serious injuries.
Truckers who ignore traffic bans during severe weather and cause a crash which results in injury could be charged with reckless endangerment and assault as well as be ticketed, Cuomo said during a Thursday news conference at a state transportation facility outside Buffalo.
Cuomo said a tractor-trailer whose driver ignored the ban jackknifed west of Rochester on Wednesday afternoon, causing a 19-vehicle pileup that injured several people, including a state trooper. Buffalo and Rochester media outlets reported several instances of truckers ignoring the ban and traveling on highways and roads despite whiteout conditions.
“That tractor-trailer ban is serious. We’re not asking tractor-trailers and buses to stay off the road. That is a legal ban,” Cuomo said. “If you violate the law in this situation you could be endangering human life.”
State police said the truck that caused the pileup was traveling east on I-90 when it jackknifed between Rochester and Buffalo and struck the rear of the patrol vehicle of Trooper Dominique Wilson, who had pulled over to assist stranded motorists. Her vehicle was then sideswiped by a second truck, troopers said.
Wilson was treated at a Rochester hospital for numerous injuries but is expected to recover, officials said. Two other people were treated and released, police said.
The two truckers were issued several tickets, including failing to heed the roadside traffic control devices that alerted commercial truck and bus drivers that a travel ban was in effect, troopers said.
After the news conference, Cuomo headed out in an emergency services truck to get a look at local road conditions. His entourage came upon two trucks police had stopped from getting on another route closed to truck traffic. Cuomo jumped on the running board of one of the trucks and told the driver to pull over because the roads were dangerous.
“They were a little surprised to see me, to tell you the truth,” said Cuomo, adding that both truckers would be ticketed by state police.