Nov. 20—WATERTOWN — The north country was buried in snow this weekend, with some parts of Jefferson County seeing over 70 inches of snow fall within a matter of hours.
Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul said the state is doing all it can to help get things back on track.
In a video news conference held from Buffalo, which saw similarly historic amounts of snow fall over the weekend, she said more equipment and operators are on their way north Sunday morning to help clear roads. State staff have also visited over 600 mobile home parks in western New York and the north country to check on residents and ensure their homes are kept safe, and are working through more throughout the day.
The governor originally planned to hold her Sunday news conference at the state Department of Transportation facility in Pamelia, but was unable to fly from Buffalo to Watertown due to continued poor weather and icy conditions at Watertown International Airport.
"We're hoping to reschedule that (visit), but I just spoke to the mayor of Watertown, Jeff Smith, to talk to him about the concerns that he has," she said.
SLOW PROGRESS ON STREETS
Sunday afternoon, Mayor Smith apologized to city residents for the slow progress being made clearing city streets, saying that over 65 inches had fallen since Thursday night, and the wet, heavy snow was proving difficult to move.
"Due to the amount of wet, heavy snow that has fallen on the city our plow trucks are having difficulty pushing the snow," he said.
He said the city's Department of Public Works had to dedicate two crews to extricating stuck plows on Saturday night, slowing down plowing progress even more. He thanked Gov. Hochul for her quick response to the city's request for aid, and for sending more heavy-duty state plowing equipment to help clear streets that arrived Sunday afternoon.
"Together we will get through this storm like we have in the past," he said. "Again, I thank city residents for your patience and understanding. Thanks to the city DPW crews for their around-the-clock hard work, and we thank Governor Hochul and NYS DOT for their help."
More snow was anticipated for Jefferson County into Monday after over three and a half feet have fallen since Thursday, but predictions changed and the city got no more snow after the last squall early Sunday morning. Oswego and Lewis counties bore the last of the storm Sunday, and could see more than two feet fall over the day, with 40-mile-per-hour wind gusts as well, faster than any wind seen so far in this storm event.
"The band is going to hit Lewis, Oswego and far northern Cayuga counties, and thundersnow is possible," Gov. Hochul said. "It's kind of exciting to watch, but it's also dangerous."
HEAVY, WET SNOW
While such snowfall isn't atypical for the north country, the governor said this storm came early in the season and hit hard relatively quickly, dumping a heavy, wet snow that can be difficult to clear.
"When you hit 80 to 85 inches of snow over the course of just a couple days, snow events everywhere from Natural Bridge up in the north country to Orchard Park, that is one to tell your grandkids about," she said.
Travel bans were implemented as the first of the storm hit the region Thursday night, dropping feet of snow in a narrow band that covered Dexter, the city of Watertown, Fort Drum, Carthage and parts of southern St. Lawrence County. By the time the worst of the storm was finished Saturday midday, over 72 inches of snow fell in Natural Bridge, 57.4 inches fell in Watertown, 54 inches fell on Fort Drum, 47 inches fell in West Carthage and 40 inches fell in Copenhagen, Lewis County, according to the snowfall report from the National Weather Service in Buffalo.
Watertown public works Superintendent Patrick Keenan says this weekend's storm is the worst he has seen in his 37 years of working at the city.
It's the sheer amount of snow in a short amount of time, he said Saturday.
The job is made more difficult because it's "heavy snow with moisture content," he said.
The wet snow is especially hard to move after it has been packed down by vehicle traffic.
All of that created a headache of trying to remove the snow so people can get out of their homes and maneuver around the city once again.
"Other than that, we're doing OK," he said.
It's going to take some time to get all the streets plowed and then the snow removed, he said.
NYDOT SENDS PLOWS
The state Department of Transportation plows were out in force to help on Friday to plow the city's main thoroughfares.
That has happened only one other time, a few years ago, Mr. Keenan said.
The state help allowed city plows to focus on plowing secondary streets.
Side streets and deadends will be the last to get attention from city plows, he said.
But then the big job of removing the snow begins.
The state will be back to help out with that process, sending frontloaders and trucks to join the city's fleet. Snow gets dumped in the Black River.
More snow fell early Sunday morning, with about a half-foot of new snow on the ground in the city of Watertown, but the NWS did not provide updated figures by Sunday night.
In western New York, which saw a separate but similar lake-effect snow storm, saw 77 inches of snowfall in Orchard Park, Erie County.
Those totals don't quite reach the record-setting snowfall seen during the January 1977 blizzard that dumped over 100 inches of snow in western New York and over 60 inches of snow in Watertown, according to contemporary reports from the Watertown Daily Times. Wind speeds for this weekend's storm were lower too, with high speeds of 40 miles per hour seen in Lewis County midday Sunday, much lower than the 51 miles per hour winds seen in 1977. That 1977 storm paralyzed northern and western New York for over a week after the final flakes fell, while most roads were reopened and businesses were running again by Sunday night this time around.
ROOF COLLAPSES IN PAMELIA
There were no reported weather-related fatalities in the north country this weekend, but two people in Erie County died of cardiac events while shoveling snow Friday. A home explosion was reported in the town of Watertown Saturday, displacing two adults, and the roof of a Pamelia mobile home reportedly collapsed Saturday, displacing a family of 5. The Red Cross is assisting both families.
Throughout the city of Watertown, many residents spent Sunday clearing off their snow-covered vehicles, or trying to navigate huge snow banks and regular plow traffic as they moved around the core of the snowbound city. In the public parking lot on Watertown's Stone Street, local resident Kyle D. Burrett said he's fine with some snow, but this sudden dump was too much for him.
"It's just a ton of work to clear my car, and this stuff weights a ton," he said. "I hope I can get out once I get it cleared off."
As he finished clearing his vehicle, city plows started to clear his area of the parking lot, providing a path to exit.
On Public Square, nearby resident Brian Irving said he was walking to the Family Dollar store in the Top of the Square Plaza, a few hundred feet away, to get food for his mother and his son at home. The sidewalks were barely cleared, with pedestrians having to scale feet-high piles of snow to cross the street or pass by other walkers. He said he expected his 84-year-old mother would have trouble getting out of their shared apartment for a few days before the walkways are cleared enough.
"That's always the last thing to get cleared, the sidewalks," he said. "So now I'm going mountain climbing to get our dinner."
HOCHUL REQUESTS FEDERAL AID
On Saturday, Gov. Hochul officially submitted a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will go to the White House for final approval, which could help reimburse what she said are tremendous costs being borne by municipalities and the state government to respond to the emergency. She said she's also been in contact with the Small Business Administration to try securing low-interest rate loans for small businesses closed for extended periods of time during the storm.
"There are many small businesses that are closed, local pizzerias, little mom and pop shops, retail, the restaurants, and they're taking a financial hit there," she said. "We'd like to be able to see if we can access federal small business loan assistance for any of those, and certainly those that have had damage to their facilities."
Like many businesses in Watertown, the Salmon Run Mall closed early Friday — at 3 p.m. — while the city was getting blasted with snow.
Retailers wanted to get home safely.
The mall reopened at noon Saturday.
To do that, Salmon Run Mall's plow crews worked all night to remove snow from the mall's parking lots, said Karla Noftsier, the mall's marketing director.
Ms. Noftsier shoveled all day from her home so she doesn't know how many stores were able to be open on Saturday.
All she knows there was a lot of snow.
DRY HILL MAY OPEN FOR HOLIDAY
There was no skiing at the Dry Hill Ski Area in the town of Watertown during this weekend's mammoth snowstorm.
But it wasn't because of the weather.
The new owners aren't quite ready to open the ski area, but the snowstorm impacted the Alpine Ridge Road resort anyway.
Co-owner Boo Wells-Jareo was working on getting ready for the ski season and started to head home on Friday night.
She, her son Stewart, grandson Jude and her two dogs got as far as the car dealers on outer Washington Street at about 8:30 p.m. when the snow just got to be too much.
They went back to Dry Hill, where they stayed in Ms. Wells-Jareo's office for the night.
"It was very cozy," she said.
As for the ski season opening, she hopes to open for Thanksgiving weekend, a crucial time for the ski industry.
Temperatures are expected to go up during the coming week. And then some snow-making work is planned.
With any help from the weather over the next several days, Dry Hill will be open for the holiday.
"It all depends on Mother Nature," she said.
She and her husband bought the ski area this fall from Timothy L. and Deborah H. McAtee. It had been in their family for 40 years.
"It was a big one," she said.
HOCHUL OPEN TO HELPING HOMELESS
Gov. Hochul said she's also open to requests from Jefferson County or the city of Watertown to assist the local homeless population. Friday night, an impromptu shelter was opened in a former automotive garage on Main Avenue, owned by local businessman P.J. Simao, to provide temporary shelter to the people who had been staying under the J.B. Wise parking lot pavilion. Officials said 10 of the about 15 people who had sheltered at the pavilion moved to the garage, which had hot water and bathroom facilities installed Saturday.
New York's Commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, Jacqueline Bray, said all state responders are operating on function six, focused on providing mass care, emergency assistance, housing and human services to people in need.
"That's the sheltering function, and we can deploy state resources, National Guard resources or coordinate with the American Red Cross," she said.
Gov. Hochul said she will be in touch with local officials to find out how the state can help with sheltering people without homes during storms.
Overall, Gov. Hochul said she's proud of the combined responses to the storm put up by the state and local communities. Power outages have been kept to a minimum, roads and highways haven't seen major pileups or paralyzing accidents, and plows have kept running when needed.
"Overall, I feel very confident that we did not have the same travesty and crisis that was created under past events of similar magnitude," she said.
She cautioned that residents should still follow all safety warnings, observe any travel bans in their areas, and look out for their neighbors. She cautioned that any signs of roof failure should be taken seriously.
"If there's a single sound you hear with respect to the roof, make sure the occupants leave immediately," she said.