Snowstorm buries portions of county

Although the first day of winter isn’t until Dec. 21, “Winter is in Chautauqua County,” according to Brad Bentley, director of Public Facilities for Chautauqua County. Beginning Tuesday afternoon, schools, libraries, businesses and other entities began reporting closings for Wednesday due to the threatening forecast, which did not disappoint.

While some portions of the south county received more than a foot of snow overnight, like Jamestown, which the National Weather Service reported at 17.6 inches as of 8 a.m. Wednesday, other places, like Dunkirk, only reported an inch and a half of snowfall.

Forestville reported 11 inches and Silver Creek reported 4.5 inches by 8 a.m. Wednesday, but portions of the Chautauqua/Cattaraugus border, like Randolph, received 22 inches of snowfall by that same time, according to the National Weather Service.

All but four school districts in the county closed — Clymer, Dunkirk, Fredonia and Panama were the hold-outs — as well as both BOCES centers and all three Jamestown Community College campuses. Dunkirk and Jamestown city courts, as well as all county courts were closed on Wednesday as well.

Early Wednesday morning, Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello issued a countywide travel ban for all unnecessary travel. He even implemented the inclement weather policy for non-essential county employees on Wednesday, and advised the public to call before traveling to a county office to ensure that staff was present. The travel advisory was lifted around 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

Bentley told the OBSERVER on Wednesday morning that several factors were part of the county’s decision to issue a travel advisory. According to Bentley, road conditions worsened on Tuesday night, and snow plow crews were out in full force throughout the county.

“Overnight, it looked like snowfall rates had increased, and the blowing and drifting snow was a concern along with some pretty hefty snowfall amounts,” he said. “With that in mind, we wanted to make sure that people weren’t out that shouldn’t be. It would also allow our crews to be out and not have cars stranded in the roadways, and just give our plows a chance to address the situation.”

Bentley, who was in Falconer when he spoke with the OBSERVER Wednesday morning, said the village had received approximately one foot of snow in a three-hour period, and Cherry Creek had received more than 20 inches of snow. Although Bentley had not been to the Lake Erie shoreline area of the county yet, he said the reports his office received said that there were lesser snowfall amounts reported for the immediate lakeshore area, including Dunkirk.

Bentley urges the public to take extra caution when driving, especially around snow plows.

“When people are out traveling, if they’re behind a plow, stay 200 feet behind,” he said. “If they decide to pass, remember, the snow-throw creates low visibility. I highly encourage people to keep a safe distance to allow our drivers to do their jobs safely. Please be respectful of them. They have a tough job to do, and it’s very important.”

When asked what he thought about Dunkirk and Fredonia school districts’ decision to open, he responded, “I did hear reports that the ‘Chautauqua Ridge’ and south county received the majority of the snowfall. That’s obviously their decisions whether to close or not, but for us, the snow is widespread enough throughout the county to issue the advisory.”

Despite the heavy snowfall, Bentley was pleased with the county crew’s work and said, “We’re prepared for this, and our crews are ready.”