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Buffalo winter storm death toll reaches 37. Why is the death toll so high?


At least 37 people have died following a blizzard in the county that includes Buffalo, New York, a city that sees an average of about 95 inches of snow annually.

Why did so many people die – and what should have been done differently?

Here are three reasons why the storm was so deadly.

Latest updates:Death toll in Storm Buffalo rises; federal government launches investigation into power outages

Authorities may have waited too long to ban travel

The county only banned road travel shortly before the storm hit, according to The Washington Post. The ban has been published around 9:30 a.m. on Friday. Many people were already on their way to work, determined to collect their salaries before the bank holiday weekend. Many people are said to have died outside or been trapped in their cars.

Some observers have also pointed to insufficient emergency resources, such as staffing issues, funding cuts and obsolete equipment.

At a press conference Wednesday, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz criticized the city’s response to the blizzard, calling it “embarrassing.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is conducting a joint investigation with North American Reliability Corporation, an Atlanta-based energy compliance nonprofit, investigating the power outages that affected millions of American homes amid the recent winter storm .

USA TODAY has reached out to city, county and state officials for comment.

Hurricane-force winds create deadly conditions

The blizzard was predicted and turned out to be a once-in-a-generation event. Buffalo hasn’t suffered a storm this deadly since at least 1950. Reed Timmer, veteran meteorologist and storm chaser, describe as “the worst blizzard I have ever covered”.

The storm’s devastation was partly due to its fierce combination of snow, wind and cold temperatures, as well as the fact that conditions quickly worsened.

Members of the National Guard check residents, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Buffalo NY, following a winter storm. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Wind gusts moving as fast as 79 miles per hour were recorded in the area six minutes after the county’s travel ban went into effect. By then, thousands of people had already lost power.

Poloncarz called the blizzard on Wednesday “crippling.” “It was an extreme blizzard, maybe category 5 blizzard,” he said. It was “hurricane-force winds for 24 hours with no visibility, just a few feet away.”

Buffalo, one of the snowiest cities in the country, is no stranger to extreme winters. Its residents and officials are accustomed to, and perhaps hardened to, blizzards. Erie County Sheriff John Garcia acknowledged Tuesday that officials underestimated the threat from the storm.

Gamaliel Vega tries to dig up his car on Lafayette Avenue after he got stuck in a snowdrift about a block from his house while trying to help save his cousin, who had lost power and heating with a baby at home across town during a blizzard in Buffalo, NY on Saturday, December 24, 2022.

People were unprepared and infrastructure is aging

Buffalo is one of the poorest cities in the country. Countless residents lack the necessary infrastructure and amenities to withstand such a devastating blizzard. Meanwhile, funding for public facilities has been uneven and weak power grids have left many without power for days.

Mark Wysocki, a New York State climatologist and meteorologist at Cornell University, said aging infrastructure — both in public facilities and in people’s homes — may have fueled the storm’s death toll. Individuals may have fled their homes because of a power outage, for example, only to find themselves stuck in a white-out without having prepared themselves.

Wysocki stressed the importance of storing blankets, flashlights and hoses in the car during the winter. Stuck people should run their car periodically but not continuously to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, he said.

The scientists:Climate change will not make winter storms and blizzards go away.

Ahead of the storm’s arrival Thursday night, Governor Kathy Hochul declared a statewide state of emergency, which remains in place.

Did climate change play a role?

Experts say climate change has contributed to the increasing intensity of extreme weather events such as the Buffalo Blizzard. Here are some other historic snow events in the area:

  • In January 1966, 103 inches of snow fell over four and a half days, with 50 inches in a single day.
  • During a blizzard in January 1977, there was snowfall up to 100 inches over five days, with wind gusts of up to 69 mph
  • In December 2001, 127 inches of snow fell more than six days
  • In February 2007, 141 inches of snow fell in more than 10 days

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