BUFFALO, N.Y. - This was not the time for another snowstorm.
Over the past 48 hours, nearly 20 inches of snow fell in the city of Buffalo, far surpassing the original forecasts and forcing thousands of fans from eight colleges and universities to reexamine their travel plans for the NCAA Tournament.
Fortunately, the snow finally let up Wednesday afternoon, giving the city a full 24 hours to clear the streets and sidewalks near the KeyBank Center before Thursday's 12:15 p.m. tipoff between Princeton and Notre Dame.
"We want to make it walkable," Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak said, noting that many fans are staying downtown. "They're gonna probably be walking to the venue, so that's what we're here to do."
Stepniak said he asked at least 25 extra crews -- recruited from the parks, sewer and engineering departments -- to focus specifically on tidying up the arena corridor. Meanwhile, as many as 40 other trucks conducted their normal runs through the rest of the city on Wednesday afternoon, and they will continue to target residential and side streets into the overnight hours. The main and secondary streets in the city of Buffalo are mostly clear at this point.
Mayor Byron Brown, who joined Stepniak at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, said the extra focus on downtown and the NCAA Tournament preparations did not negatively affect the snow relief in other areas of Buffalo.
"I want to stress-- that those who are working in the downtown area are not being taken out of neighborhood plowing," Brown said. "These are crews that would not be dedicated to the neighborhood plowing areas, so we've been able to focus on both things simultaneously."
Elsewhere in Erie County, an additional 40 crews have spent the past two days clearing the county-owned roads. By Wednesday evening, however, most of these paths were easily passable, according to Deputy Commissioner of Highways Bill Geary.
"If you're going out for dinner tonight, you'll probably start seeing black pavement," Geary said. "Our crews are going to keep working throughout the night to make sure we have that for the morning commute, and get back to business as normal."
With its situation stable, Erie County was able to send three crews to assist the Niagara Falls Department of Public Works on Wednesday. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz reported Wednesday evening that those crews have already returned to normal duty.
The Niagara County Department of Public Works also continued to send eight crews out on the roads late Wednesday evening as their relief efforts came to a close.
In Lockport, snow finally stopped falling well before sunset, leaving Aaron and Missy Coney to dig themselves out of quite a hole. Even after a mild winter, they hadn't grown complacent -- "we know better, it's Western New York," Aaron said -- but they did accidentally leave themselves shorthanded.
"Only have one shovel for two people," Aaron said. "We probably should have gone out and got another one but the snowblower broke down. What are you gonna do?"
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