Buffalo socked by wintry October surprise

(Buffalo, NY-AP) October 13, 2006 - A rare early October snowstorm left parts of western New York blanketed with two feet of snow Friday morning, prompting widespread blackouts, closing schools and halting traffic.

The snow downed scores of tree limbs and toppled power lines, leaving more than 155,000 customers without electricity.

By early Friday, 14 inches of snow had been recorded at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, with reports of two feet elsewhere, said Tom Paone, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The snowfall was expected to continue throughout the morning, he said.

On Thursday, 8.3 inches of heavy snow set the record for the "snowiest" October day in Buffalo in the 137-year history of the weather service, said meteorologist Tom Niziol. The previous record of 6 inches was set October 31, 1917.
 
"This is an extremely rare event for this early in the season," Niziol said.

The Buffalo Police Department received more than 3,000 calls late Thursday and about two-thirds were related to the weather, Lt. James Watkins said.

"There are power lines going down all over the place," he said.

Crews worked into the night to restore power, but many customers were expected to remain in the dark through the weekend and into next week, National Grid energy company spokesman Steve Brady said.

"This is extremely heavy snow and most of the trees still have most of their leaves, he said. "We can't do a complete damage assessment until the snow stops falling."

Dozens of schools were closed and states of emergency were declared in the City of Tonawanda, and towns of Cheektowaga, Elma, Lancaster, Akron, and Depew.

Unnecessary driving was banned in Buffalo and suburbs Amherst, Blasdell, Orchard Park and Hamburg.

"We have a condition where 80 percent of the roads are impassable," said Lt. Stephen McGonagle of the Amherst Police Department.

Officials said the snowstorm caused flight delays and cancellations at Buffalo's airport, which was shut down for almost two hours late Thursday.

Meanwhile, tree branches were strewn across the roads around the region. A large box maple tree split in half, falling on Joan Casey's home in Buffalo.

"The whole house shook," Casey said. "We were very afraid. Originally I thought it was just the thunder, and then I came outside and I couldn't believe it."

Updated 8:02am by Bryce Mursch