We have had a long stretch of good weather here in the Northeast but that all came to an end this last week. A storm of great magnitude and devastation came barreling across the country, leaving in its path many power outages, stranded travelers and tragically, several fatalities attributed to the weather. On Wednesday, the storm reached Western New York with falling temperatures, rain and wind throughout the day. By Thursday snow bands off of lake Erie set up in Buffalo and made for treacherous driving. It was strange how one area would get several inches of snow an hour, and only a few miles away the sun would be shining. Just about the time I was about to depart for my delivery route, the Snow Belt shifted directly into the area where I would be heading.
Several vans were having trouble with the parking lot at our warehouse. Snow had drifted over the building to pile a foot deep by the overhead doors, causing havoc just getting in and out of the building. Because of the temperature – only slightly below freezing – the consistency of the snow was very mealy and slippery. Surprisingly, many drivers had either neglected to get snow tires or thought they would not need them at all this year. I was glad that I had very aggressive snow tires and I had little trouble digging through the parking lot and out onto the street. As long as I went slowly, I negotiated the highway without incident and pulled onto the New York State Thruway to head for the south towns.
I entered a different world once I reached Hamburg, NY. Snow was falling at a rate of several inches per hour and high winds caused very limited visibility. At times I could hardly tell where the road was. It was a catch-22: I couldn’t see where I was but I couldn’t go to slow for fear of getting stuck. There were no snowplows on the road at all. I think they had all given up and decided to wait until the blizzard subsided a little. Most of the parking lots weren’t plowed and it was an adventure at each one. I usually ended up guessing where the driveway was. Just to load and wheel my dolly into the store – fighting the wind and deep snow – was time consuming and exhausting. Once inside, the stores were mostly deserted with only a few fool-hearty customers that had braved the weather.
I reached Silver Creek several hours behind schedule. The Rite-Aide store was without power and they led me back to the pharmacy by flashlight. Everyone questioned me about conditions in other areas I had come through and where I had last noticed electricity. I told them of several trees broken or uprooted along the road, surely taking down power lines with them.
The scariest thing happened in North Collins. Three sets to railroad tracks cross the highway just east of town, cantered at an angle that offers little view of approaching trains. There are lights and guardrails at the crossing but I usually like to take a look down the track anyway. I never have trusted the warning signals 100%. Just as I pulled on to the first set of tracks, out of the corner of my eye I saw the lights start to flash. I now had a glimpse down the track and I could make out the light of a train flying towards me. The snow on the tracks was deep and my van slowly dug and chewed its way to the other side. The crossing arms came down just missing the back of my van as I cleared the last set of tracks. Moments later the train filled my rearview mirrors.
By the time I reached Fredonia, I was out of the snow band and the grass still peeked through the dusting of snow on the ground. The wind was raw and howling from the south, rocking high-profile vehicles like mine, gearing up for a calamity of events that would unfold during the night and into the next day. Later in the day, the snow would shift into the area between Fredonia and the Pennsylvania State Line, stranding motorists on the NYS Thruway for hours. Several miles of thruway became a twenty-mile parking lot as visibility dropped to zero and accidents clogged the road. Hundreds of people spent the night and most of the next day trapped in their cars as authorities closed the highway. I can only imagine what it would be like to spend 16 hours snowbound in a vehicle. Many motorists ran out of gas trying to run their heaters and stay warm. Some had nothing to eat or drink. With a small twist of fate, it could have been me.
The trip back to Buffalo was fairly uneventful. I hit some areas of high winds (clocked at 70 mph in some areas) and ran into a few bands of snow, but by then the plows had salted most of the major roads and cleared some secondary ones. I would drive through whiteout conditions on Friday but nothing as bad as the day before. When I reached Fredonia, the Wal-Mart I deliver to had 50 semi-trucks in their parking lot and hundreds more were waiting along the road for the thruway to open. Out on the thruway, State Troupers were going from car to car checking for medical emergencies and people in need. Not until late in the afternoon would snowplows and towtrucks free the line of motorists.
Will someone please tell me why I took this South-Town route?