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Snowstorm pummels New York state, burying Buffalo

A lake-effect snowstorm dumped up to 1.2 metres of snow along a stretch of the New York State Thruway on Tuesday, forcing about 150 motorists, including a women's basketball team, to ride out the storm in their vehicles on a day when temperatures fell to freezing or below in all 50 states.

Same storm system dumping snow in parts of Ontario

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      A lake-effect snowstorm dumped up to 1.2 metres of snow along a stretch of the New York State Thruway on Tuesday, forcing about 150 motorists, including a women's basketball team, to ride out the storm in their vehicles on a day when temperatures fell to freezing or below in all 50 states.

      A state official said cars, trucks and buses stranded on a roughly six-kilometre section near Buffalo were expected to be freed by 10 p.m. Tuesday after the paralyzing ordeal that lasted nearly 24 hours for some motorists.

      "It seemed like a nightmare. It just didn't feel like it was going to end," Bryce Foreback, 23, of Shicora, Pennsylvania told The Associated Press by cellphone 20 hours into his wait for help. "I haven't slept in like 30 hours and I'm just waiting to get out of here."

      It seemed like a nightmare. It just didn't feel like it was going to end.- Bryce Foreback, 23

      Members of the Niagara University women's basketball team were napping on and off 17 hours into their wait. Some got so thirsty they drank melted snow, said Coach Kenra Faustin, who was travelling with her one-year-old.

      Team spokeswoman Chelsea Andorka said the bus, with about 25 players and coaches aboard, was headed back from a loss in Pittsburgh when it came to a halt at 2 a.m. Tuesday.

      "We were told the National Guard was coming by but haven't seen any signs of life," Andorka said. "The first time they came they told us to be prepared to stay for a while. One tow truck passed six or seven hours ago."

      'Constantly seeing cars get stuck'

      In a region accustomed to regular highway-choking, school-closing snowstorms, this one is being called one of the worst in recent memory. 

      Meteorologists say temperatures in all 50 states fell to freezing or below on Tuesday. They say the low temperatures were more reminiscent of January than November.

      About 150 motorists were stranded because of the heavy snowfall, said state police Capt. Ed Kennedy. (Derek Gee/The Buffalo News/The Associated Press)
      In New Hampshire and elsewhere, icy roads led to accidents. Lake-effect storms in Michigan produced gale-force winds and as much as 46 centimetres of snow, and cancelled several flights.

      In Atlanta, tourists Morten and Annette Larsen from Copenhagen were caught off-guard by the sub-freezing weather as they took photos of a monument to the 1996 summer Olympics at Centennial Olympic Park.The Southeast wasn't spared. Schools closed in the North Carolina mountains amid blustery winds and ice-coated roads.

      "It's as cold here as it is in Denmark right now. We didn't expect that," Larsen said, waving a hand over his denim jacket, buttoned tightly over a hooded sweatshirt.

      In Buffalo, Brian Krzeminski watched the snow pile up outside the south Buffalo convenience store where he worked overnight and served free coffee to the motorists and pedestrians who came in off the city streets to get out of the blinding snow.

      "There are people that came out to get a few things. We had some people who came in just to get a 30-pack of beer, which is kind of odd," he said.

      "We've had EMTs whose ambulance got stuck. I'm constantly seeing cars get stuck."

      Up to 1.8 metres expected in some areas

      The National Weather Service warned that the snow, generated by cold air blowing over the warmer Great Lakes, would continue through Wednesday and could eventually total 1.8 metres in places.

      "Intense lake effect snow and blowing snow will result in very difficult or nearly impossible travel at times within the most intense portion of the [snow] band," the weather service wrote.

      "Expect widespread road closures. Travel will be impossible within the band. If you must travel, be prepared for severe winter driving conditions with near zero visibility and deep snow cover on roads."

      New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo deployed 150 member of the National Guard state militia to help clear snow-clogged roads and remove abandoned vehicles.

      "We have tried to get out of our house and we are lucky to be able to shovel so we can open the door. Basically, that's it, open the door," said Linda Oakley of Buffalo. "We're just thinking that in case of an emergency we can at least get out the door. We can't go any further."

      The same storm system is hammering parts of southern and northwestern Ontario, dumping heavy snow and creating blizzard-like conditions as it sweeps to the east.

      Environment Canada warns some regions could expect as much as 25 centimetres of snow to fall by Wednesday. Residents are advised to expect winds of up to 80 km/h and near zero visibility. Motorists are advised to avoid non-essential travel until conditions improve.

      With files from CBC News

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