January snow storm affecting plans at the Buffalo airport

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CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Dozens upon dozens of flights in and out of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport were canceled Thursday as a winter storm dumped well over a foot of snow over the course of several hours.

According to the National Weather Service, 14.1 inches of snow had fallen by 1 p.m. An apparent majority of commercial flights either departing from or arriving at the airport were either called off or delayed. Still, some flights were able to get into the air.

“The airlines vary with how they are approaching it,” explained Bill Vanecek, the Director of Aviation for the NFTA, which operates the airport. “For example, Southwest decided out of an abundance of caution, they went ahead and canceled flights today.

“But you do see a few going out on Delta. Frontier is flying. United has a couple coming in as well.”

Marilynne Northrup showed up at the airport Thursday morning trying to get to Dallas, where her granddaughter is getting married this weekend. She took potential weather issues into consideration when scheduling her trip.

“That’s why we planned an extra day just in case,” Northrup said.

Josh Flores, who was traveling home to New Orleans, said the most stressful part of the day wasn’t his flight status. It was getting to the airport.

“Turning off of the 33 right here is when it got really bad,” he said. “A few cars were pulled over into the banks.”

Vanecek said the biggest issue for his team Thursday was how quickly the snow fell. Cheektowaga appeared to be right in the bullseye of the lake effect band for most of the day.

“We have got a few crews here,” Vanecek said, “a lot of people on overtime. So they’re going to be working double shifts. Fatigue always becomes an issue and a factor. We’ve got to get the folks some rest, get them some food, and gear them up to go back out and continue to do their job.”

Vanecek explained it’s his team’s job to advise the airlines and the FAA tower whether the runway is in good enough shape to land and take off. Thursday, he said it was.

“I would probably say it’s poor braking,” he said around noon Thursday. “But you can still land in poor breaking. But it’s not nil. If it’s nil, that means you’re sliding off the runway.”

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.

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