Residents walk on the street during a snowstorm as extreme winter weather hits Buffalo, New York, U.S., November 18, 2022. REUTERS/Lindsay DeDario

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BUFFALO, N.Y., Nov 18 (Reuters) – An early winter “lake effect” storm dumped heavy snows on parts of western New York state on Friday, with at least two deaths reported, travel disrupted and icy powder expected to pile higher through the weekend.

The squalls blowing in from Lake Erie and Lake Ontario had dumped 3 to 5 feet (1-1.5 meters) or more of snow. Authorities said the deaths appeared to be from heart attacks due to overexertion while clearing snow in hard-hit Erie County.

As temperatures plunged, the region’s first major snowstorm of the season materialized on Thursday and intensified overnight into Friday, well before the start of winter on Dec. 21.

Lake-effect squalls unleashed sporadic bursts of heavy precipitation throughout the day, burying some areas in several feet of snow, and were expected to persist through Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

By Friday evening, the weather service reported 5 1/2 feet (1.7 meters) of snow measured in the Erie County village of Orchard Park, 15 miles (25 km) south of Buffalo and more directly in the downwind of path of frozen moisture blasting inland off Lake Erie.

Accumulations of 3 to 4 feet and more were recorded at several adjacent locales by late afternoon, while Buffalo, the state’s second-most populous city with some 278,000 residents, awoke to nearly 14 inches (36 cm) Friday morning.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz reported a partial building collapse from the weight of fallen snow in the town of Hamburg, but no further details were immediately available.

As the storm gained momentum, the weather service cited multiple instances in which snow squalls were accompanied by claps of thunder and flashes of lightning, a phenomenon called “thunder snow.”

High winds and snow-draped tree limbs and power lines knocked out electricity to thousands of customers, while the storm also forced traffic closures along the New York Thruway and several other major highways.

All but five of nearly 80 flights scheduled to depart from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Friday were canceled, said the facility’s aviation director Lee Weitz.

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