Snow closes Thruway in Buffalo area

Photo Credit: NYS Thruway

Hundreds of cold and hungry motorists spent hours Thursday stranded on a western New York highway after an accident caused a backup and the idling trucks and cars got stuck in heavy snow.

A storm that began Wednesday and continued overnight buried parts of Buffalo and its suburbs under 2 feet of snow, but largely spared the downtown. Dozens of schools canceled classes.

After a truck jackknifed on Interstate 90 on Wednesday evening, police closed the highway about 3 a.m. Thursday when vehicles became backed up and buried in blowing snow, State Trooper Daniel Golinski said. Drivers also were stranded on a 3-mile stretch of Interstate 190.

By midday, parts of I-90 were reopened and the stretch of I-190 reopened shortly afterward.

Jack Geiselman took his 14-hours stranded on the highway in 32-degree weather in stride.

"I tend not to be a ranter-and-raver about things and the point is, it's nothing I have any control over," the 60-year-old semi-retired civil engineer said. "I guess the way I look at it is, it's over. I guess stuff happens. It's not the end of the world."

Geiselman was traveling in a Honda Civic from Keene, N.Y., to Cleveland with his black lab Boomer to help his daughter get her house ready for a baby due between Christmas and New Year. He had with him a sleeping bag and plenty of warm clothing and gas. He said state troopers came by with coffee and food for people in cars.

Emergency crews on ATVs passed out water and protein bars, and buses picked up motorists and delivered them to a shelter at a senior citizen center.

State Police had no reports of medical emergencies, although one older motorist who uses oxygen was among the stranded and was taken to safety, said Capt. Michael Nigrelli.

Not to be discouraged, two truck drivers who left their tandems idling in the early morning tramped through the snow for about half a mile to pick up a breakfast sandwich and coffee off the highway. They seemed almost cheerful despite the hit on their livelihood.

"The wheels are not moving and we're making nothing," said Don Lanphere, 51, a trucker for 32 years who was hauling dog food. "The only guys making money are the plow operators."

"I had the radio on listening," said Curt Doverspike, 40, a trucker from Jamestown. "They said we should be getting out soon. Nothing ever happened so we just went to bed, woke up this morning. We're just kind of used to it."

He said regular travelers were venting their frustrations but the truck drivers were calmer.

"There's traffic jams, accidents all the time," Doverspike said. "You just get used to it. I guess it's easier for us than those in the cars because they get frustrated. We have a bed. If we get bored, we lay down and go to bed."

Other truckers left the road to find refuge at truck stops, parking lots and city streets, but most kept their rigs parked on the highway, especially the tandem drivers who, with two trailers behind them, are allowed to get off the highway only at designated exits.

Matt Welling was hauling a double tractor-trailer full of groceries when traffic came to a standstill. He spent the night "sitting back, playing a little Solitaire on the computer, taking a nap," the Wegmans driver said after more than eight hours stuck on the road.

"I'm pretty chilly, hungry. A nice cup of coffee would do pretty well right now," he said by cell phone.

Police said an 11-mile stretch of road along Buffalo's eastern edge remained closed Thursday afternoon, and tractor-trailers remained the primary source of gridlock. Buffalo's mayor issued a driving ban for the city's southern section.

The snow was expected to shift north through Buffalo during the day.

In Cattaraugus County on New York's southwestern edge, flooding was the bigger problem following heavy rain. Two emergency shelters were opened, in Olean and Portville, as the Allegheny River reached moderate flood stage. Between 50 and 100 homes were affected, said Stephanie Timblin, spokeswoman for the county's Office of Emergency Services.

The river was expected to crest Thursday afternoon and drop overnight.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Original Story:

A section of the New York State Thruway in suburban Buffalo was closed Thursday after a lake-effect storm dumped up to 2 feet of snow on the area, stranding hundreds of motorists who spent the night in their vehicles.

Authorities said the shutdown has been extended to 16 miles of eastbound lanes, while a 10-mile westbound stretch remains closed.

Eastbound Interstate 90 is now closed from Exit 57 to Exit 50, and westbound between exits 50 and 55 remained closed along the city's eastern suburbs during the morning commute. State Trooper Daniel Golinski said the highway was closed shortly before 3 a.m. Thursday after vehicles backed up behind a truck accident became buried in blowing snow.

The truck jackknifed around 8 p.m. Wednesday and has been removed, but crews were still working to free the stranded vehicles, Golinski said.

"There's a lot of work to do yet," he said.

Snowmobiles and emergency vehicles were used to check on snowbound motorists stuck along the closed stretch of I-90 running north-south along Buffalo's eastern city limits. Motorists were also stranded on an intersecting 3-mile stretch of Interstate 190 that was closed.

Golinski described the scene as "13 miles of bumper-to-bumper cars, two lanes each - three lanes each depending on where they are."

The eastbound lanes near Exit 52 in Cheektowaga were mostly cleared of vehicles around 9 a.m. Thursday but traffic was still being kept from entering the highway. Idled tractor-trailers filled the westbound lanes in the same area, as troopers on all-terrain vehicles went vehicle to vehicle checking on drivers.

Motorist Bob Schultz left his home near Lake Erie Wednesday night with the intention of going bowling but never made it.

"I made the mistake of trying to go bowling and now I'm trying to get back to Lake View, but the alternative is trying to get to somewhere where I can sleep," he told Buffalo's WIVB-TV as he sat in his snowbound car.

The lake-effect storm that began Wednesday dumped up to 2 feet of snow on the Buffalo area, according to the National Weather Service. Buffalo city schools and dozens of other school districts in the region canceled classes Thursday.

Power remains out for about 10,000 utility customers in eastern New York. Most of the outages were National Grid customers in Central New York and the Adirondacks.

More information from a NYS Thruway news release:

The New York State Thruway Authority has just announced that the New York State Thruway (I-90) has been closed between Interchanges 49 ( Depew-Lockport-NY Route 78) and 55 (Springville-Orchard Park-US Route 219-Ridge Road-Lackawanna-West Seneca) to all traffic except emergency vehicles.

This section will reopen as soon as crews can clear the snow from the roadway making it passable and safe for motorists.

The Authority has activated Highway Advisory Radio (HAR), Dynamic Message Signs (DMS) and issued a TRANSalert to alert motorists of the closure and weather-related delays. Snowmobiles are also on this section of roadway checking on the well-being of motorists.

Check out some of the Thruway cameras of this mess.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.