BUFFALO, N.Y. – Buffalo lay all but paralyzed Friday after a record-breaking early snowstorm whited-out the brilliant colors of fall, buried pumpkins and apples and caught this city world-famous for its wintry weather flat-flooted. At least three deaths were blamed on the storm.
The heavy, wet snow snapped tree limbs all over western New York, leaving some 380,000 homes and businesses without power.
A state of emergency was in effect across the region, banning all nonessential travel. Branches and power lines lay draped across cars and houses, and normally busy downtown streets were still, blanketed by up to two feet of snow.
"I thought it was kind of pretty but eerie," said Ann Goff, who walked to her job at a Buffalo supermarket in the middle of the night. "It was scary listening to the cracking of the branches."
The snow, delivered in a fury of thunder and lightning, blanketed Buffalo and surrounding areas Thursday night and early Friday. A 105-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway was closed for hours, and food and water had to be delivered by snowmobile to stranded motorists.
Many municipal trucks were still working to remove leaves on Thursday and did not have plows attached when the surprise storm hit.
As a crew of workers sawed and hoisted fallen tree limbs full of autumn color, Bitsy Kosovac, 68, of Point Richmond, Calif., tried to trudge out from her Buffalo hotel for her morning walk in ankle-length boots and a light jacket. A foot of slushy snow and the howling wind stopped her before she could get out of the parking lot.
"If I had better shoes, I would," the Texas native said, trying to turn the storm into an another adventure in her group's fall foliage tour of Mark Twain historic sites.
Erie County authorities said two people died in traffic accidents, and one person died after being hit by a falling tree limb while shoveling snow.
Ambulance crews brought oxygen to the elderly and drove patients to dialysis treatments.
On Thursday, 8.6 inches of snow fell — the snowiest October day in Buffalo in the 137-year history of the weather service. The record lasted for all of one day, as a foot of snow fell early Friday. The old record was 6 inches, set on Oct. 31, 1917.
The snow began melting as bright sunshine emerged and temperatures warmed into the 40s. But the wind continued to howl, raising fears more trees would topple.
"My yard looks like pick-up sticks with the trees," said Rep. Thomas Reynolds, a Republican congressman from suburban Clarence.
Schoolchildren who began the week with a summerlike Columbus Day holiday ended it with a snow day.
"It's pretty cool because we get to build snow forts," said 10-year-old Christopher Platek. "We get to bury ourselves in the snow!"
The storm buried pumpkins and apples just before a busy picking weekend, but the quickly melting snow is not expected to cause damage, New York Farm Bureau spokesman Peter Gregg said.
At the Seven Seas Sailing School on Lake Erie, boats were encrusted in ice.
In some of the city's Victorian-era neighborhoods, oaks, maples, magnolias — some of which have withstood a century of the harshest elements — were bowed or broken.
"Our street looked like it was hit by a hurricane. It looks like the apocalypse. It's unreal," said Matthew Colken. "One hundred-year-old trees are down."