As temperatures rose on Wednesday, meteorologists predicted that the worst of the historic winter storm was likely behind western New York, a trend that was expected to spread across large swaths of the country.
Residents, however, were still reeling from the storm’s devastation this week. On Wednesday, officials confirmed on Twitter that the death toll in Erie County, which includes Buffalo, had risen to 37.
The storm brought frigid temperatures and high winds, with gusts reaching 70 mph at times, in addition to burying the city in more than 50 inches of snow since Christmas Eve, according to the National Weather Service.
Temperatures were expected to rise into the 40s and 50s throughout the week, which would help to alleviate the situation. Some rain was predicted, which, when combined with melted snow, could cause flooding.
According to Thompson, conditions in the United States were also expected to warm, with some areas, including the Midwest, experiencing temperatures 10 to 20 degrees above average.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service said Wednesday morning that an active and powerful wet system is expected to hit the Western half of the country in the coming days, bringing moderate to heavy rain, mountain snow, and potential flood risks.
As a result of the storm’s high winds, several people were killed in Oregon.
According to an Oregon State Police news release, three people were killed, including a 4-year-old girl, when a large tree fell on their pickup truck on U.S. 26 about 15 miles east of the coast. All three were dead when first responders arrived on the scene.
According to state police, another motorist was killed when a large tree fell on the cab of a commercial truck he was driving on U.S. 26 on Mount Hood. The 53-year-old driver was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to Oregon State Police, a tree fell on their pickup truck on Interstate 84 near Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge, injuring the driver and killing a passenger. The driver was taken to the hospital in critical condition.
All of the incidents, according to state police, were caused by severe weather.
Southwest cancels more flights
On Wednesday, Southwest Airlines passengers were still dealing with cancelled flights and misplaced luggage.
More than 2,500 Southwest flights were cancelled on Wednesday, according to FlightAware, which tracks flight status in real time, following approximately 5,600 cancellations on Monday and Tuesday. According to FlightAware, Southwest has already cancelled over 2,300 flights for Thursday.
“We are past the point where (Southwest) can say this is a weather-driven issue,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said on Good Morning America on Wednesday, noting that, while the rest of the aviation system was cancelling flights at a rate of about 4% Wednesday morning, Southwest was cancelling flights at a rate of more than 60%.
“This indicates a system failure,” Buttigieg said on GMA. “They must ensure that these stranded passengers get to their destinations and that they are adequately compensated, not just for the flight itself… but also for things like hotels, ground transportation (and) meals – because this is the airline’s responsibility.”
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden stated that his administration would hold airlines accountable for the mass cancellations. The Transportation Department stated that it would look into the cancellations of Southwest Airlines.
A joint investigation has been launched into the storm’s widespread power outages.
The winter storm that shook much of the United States over the holiday weekend also knocked out power for millions, with widespread outages reported throughout the country.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, and regional entities announced Wednesday that they would conduct a joint investigation “into the operations of the bulk power system during the extreme winter weather conditions that occurred” during the winter storm.
While the weather’s impact on local utilities’ electric distribution facilities caused the majority of the outages, the NERC noted that some utilities in the southeast, including Tennessee and North Carolina, initiated rolling blackouts. In addition, the bulk power system was “significantly stressed” in other regions.
The winter storm’s effects “demonstrate once again that our bulk power system is critical to public safety and health,” FERC chairman Rich Glick said in a statement. “The joint inquiry with NERC we are announcing today will allow us to dig deeper into exactly what happened so we can further protect the reliability of the grid.
As the National Guard goes door to door, the death toll rises.
Officials confirmed on Twitter on Wednesday that the death toll in Erie County had risen to 37.
29 of the 37 deaths occurred in Buffalo, seven in the suburbs, and one was unknown, according to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. As of Wednesday night, there were several unidentified bodies.
According to the county, more victims may be discovered in the coming days. On Wednesday, the National Guard went door to door in Buffalo and its suburbs, checking on people who had lost power.
Officials are “concerned that (more) people may have died” as a result of the storm, according to Poloncarz.
“I would like to express my heartfelt condolences and sympathies to those who have lost loved ones,” Poloncarz said on Wednesday. “I understand that when the holiday season arrives, people will reflect on the storm and the death of a loved one. Some of the stories are truly heartbreaking. It breaks my heart.”
Poloncarz mentioned a man who went out into the storm “to get food and provisions for his pregnant wife who was about to give birth… (but) did not return home.” The man, Abdul Sharifu, 26, was discovered dead outside on Saturday, according to the Buffalo News.
Abdul Sharifu, according to Sharifu’s cousin, Ali Sharifu, was working on purchasing a home for his family and “was so excited to become a father.”
The families of other victims have also been identified.
‘I don’t think I can go any further,’ she says. ‘Please, Mom, just stand up,’ I beg. “She fell into my arms and said nothing,” Parker told the newspaper.
According to her daughter Casey Maccarone, Monique Alexander, 52, was discovered buried in snow after going out in the storm. Alexander’s current location is unknown.