Erie County, Buffalo leaders warn public of 'potentially dangerous' arctic cold front (2023)

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Stephen T. Watson , Harold McNeil

Erie County and Buffalo officials are warning residents to stay safe – and warm – during the bitter cold snap expected to last through Saturday, with air temperatures dipping into the low single digits and wind chills falling well below zero.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said he doesn't plan to declare a state of emergency because this arctic cold front isn't expected to bring the sustained heavy snow and wind gusts that create the kind of dangerous conditions seen in December during the blizzard.

But city and county leaders are opening warming centers, making preparations to check on people who are homeless and other vulnerable populations and urging the public to limit their time outside.

"We're Buffalo. We're hardy. We can get through this, if you're dressed appropriately and you don't go out for extended circumstances," Poloncarz said at a briefing Thursday with other county administrators.

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Erie County, Buffalo leaders warn public of 'potentially dangerous' arctic cold front (1)

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown also announced the opening of warming shelters across the city, as well as the placement of electronic digital message boards at six locations in various parts of the city, including at Tupper and Washington streets, where the mayor held a news conference.

"We want to make sure that people have the information about this very cold weather coming in," Brown said. "We've also put out the information through social media, through our block club networks and a variety of other ways, but the six message boards are a way to additionally get the information on these extremely cold temperatures out to the community."

The National Weather Service predicts temperatures will start falling late Thursday, when a cold front moving into Western New York also will bring a brief burst of heavy snow that could create whiteout conditions for a short time after the evening commute. Accumulations of 1 to 3 inches of snow are expected.

The low temperature of 6 degrees overnight could feel as cold as minus-10 degrees with the wind chill, the service predicts.

Friday's daytime temperature is expected to top out at 9 degrees, with wind chills as low as minus-15. The overnight temperature is likely to fall to 3 degrees.

The weather service has issued a wind chill advisory for Erie, Niagara, Genesee, Chautauqua and Orleans counties from 4 a.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday, when wind chills could reach 15 to 20 degrees below zero.

County and city leaders on Thursday urged the public to take precautions during the 36-hour period between late Thursday and Saturday morning.

Dr. Gale R. Burstein, the county's health commissioner, said people should avoid being outside for any extended length of time but anyone who needs to venture out should bundle up in layers that include a warm hat, gloves, boots and a facial covering.

She warned of the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia and implored people to check on neighbors who are elderly, who have a disability or otherwise are potentially vulnerable to the cold.

"So just give a knock on the door, make sure they're OK. See if there's anything you can do for them, if they need anything urgently," Burstein said.

Poloncarz urged people who need to travel to make sure their vehicles are well stocked with blankets, snacks and other items needed if they get stuck on the road.

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Greg Butcher, the county's deputy commissioner of homeland security and emergency services, cautioned drivers that when it's this cold out crews largely rely on plowing to clear area roadways.

"Things like salt, sand and the like often don't work as effectively in these extreme cold temperatures. So we want the public to be cognizant of that as well," Butcher said.

He also reminded residents about the danger of freezing pipes in extremely cold temperatures and recommended, if power is lost, keeping a small amount of water running from taps in homes.

County and city officials are particularly concerned about the welfare of people who are homeless. Poloncarz said organizations that work with this community will go out onto the streets to try to encourage as many of them to get into shelters.

He noted that many of the people who were found dead outside during the Buffalo blizzard in late December were homeless.

Buffalo officials have released a list of the 14 daytime warming centers that will be open throughout the city Thursday and Friday. In addition, two Code Blue warming centers, at 412 Niagara St. and 586 Genesee St., will be open from 6 p.m. Thursday to 7 a.m. Friday.

"We are recommending that Friday and Saturday people dress in layers to be safe," Brown said during his news conference Thursday.

In addition, Brown said that the digital message boards are another way to alert motorists and passersby of the extremely cold weather.

"We are asking more members of the community to share this information with family members, with friends, with neighbors, with church members, with people that they come into contact with so that the information gets out that starting late tonight, Friday into Saturday we are going to be experiencing some of the coldest temperatures that we've seen in four years," he said.

The messages on the signs will read: "Extreme Weather Conditions; Sub-zero Temps Expected; and Please Use Caution." They are meant to be read and digested quickly, the mayor said.

Additional signs are located at Abbott Road and McKinley Parkway; Bailey and Kensington avenues; Jefferson Avenue and East Ferry Street; Niagara and Tonawanda streets; and Delaware and Hertel avenues.

Buffalo Public Schools have closed schools Friday. Poloncarz said he had consulted Thursday with Hamburg Superintendent Michael Cornell, president of the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association, who told the county executive he didn't expect many other area districts to follow suit.

Children can safely make their way to school even in single-digit temperatures as long as they are dressed for the conditions, Poloncarz said.

National Grid, too, is getting ready for the storm, saying in a statement that it is extending evening, overnight and weekend shifts for its crews in anticipation of the cold front expected to hit a large portion of its upstate service area.

The best thing about the cold front, Poloncarz said, is that it should move through Western New York quickly. By Saturday afternoon, temperatures are expected to climb to 28 degrees. Sunday should be breezy with a high near 40.

In fact, Poloncarz, near the end of his briefing, made a pitch to residents to stop by Chestnut Ridge Park on Sunday for the county's Winterfest celebration.

Meanwhile, Lauren Moloney-Ford, general manager of the Buffalo Waterfront announced that the ice rink at Canalside will be closed to skating on Friday because of the frigid temperatures.

“While a difficult decision to close with a highly anticipated silent disco at the ice, we feel this is the best way to ensure the safety of our customers and staff,” Moloney-Ford said.


  • Mark C. Poloncarz
  • Western New York
  • Gale R. Burstein
  • Greg Butcher
  • Erie County
  • Erie-niagara School Superintendents Association
  • Kathy Hochul
  • Byron W. Brown
  • Michael Cornell
  • National Weather Service
  • National Grid
  • Blizzard
  • Arctic Cold Front

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