More than 100 people who spent the night in snowbound cars and trucks on a closed stretch of New York State Thruway were guided off the highway Friday, but travel remained treacherous in the southwest corner of the state and into Pennsylvania.
"It was very difficult. The weather was not cooperating," state police Capt. Michael Nigrelli said of efforts to clear the way for motorists to exit a 52-mile stretch of Interstate 90 between Dunkirk, N.Y. and Erie, Pa., which was closed because of howling winds and blowing snow about 1:30 a.m. Friday.
"People were cold, they were hungry and they were tired."
Troopers, Chautauqua County sheriff's deputies and officers from the Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement used all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles to check on those stranded during the all-night ordeal, topping off gas tanks so engines could run for heat and advising against trying to walk for help in gusting wind and snow.
"They had to stay inside their vehicles, stay as warm as they could and stay put," Nigrelli said. "It was very dangerous for people to exit their vehicles and try to walk in an unfamiliar area in freezing temperatures with very low visibility."
Snowplows eventually cleared the way for state police to escort the tractor-trailers and passenger cars to the exits.
The Lake Erie-fed snow continued to fall in the border area and other regions south and east of Buffalo during the second day of the season's first big storm, forcing dozens of schools closed in suburban Buffalo and Rochester while sparing the large metro areas a second round of blowing snow.
Buffalo and Rochester each received 6 inches of snow Thursday, worsened by wind gusts up to 60 mph, while some suburbs received more than twice that amount Thursday and even more Friday.
Heavy snowfall was expected to continue though Saturday in western New York's ski areas, as well as east of Lake Ontario, with totals of 3 feet possible.
Snow plow driver Tom Nataro, who has been working around the clock, said poor visibility has been the biggest challenge.
"I can't see," he said. "You got the wind blowing in all different directions and you know, you can't see, it's really tough."
The National Weather Service has issued lake-effect snow warnings through Saturday for western and central New York.