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One difference between this storm and Snowvember? More can work from home

 Thousands of tons of salt ready for the storm and the highway
Mike Desmond
Thousands of tons of salt ready for the storm and the highway

This weekend’s snowstorm is coming off Lake Erie on the eight-year anniversary of Snowvember, but there is one big difference between that storm and this one.

Instead of clogging up the highways to get to work or potentially missing work altogether, tens of thousands of Western New Yorkers can simply Zoom in from home.

“That's an advantage that we now know,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “The argument from some employers that, ‘Well, I have to get my employees there,’ maybe doesn't cut the mustard like it did. Because we know that the vast majority of those in the service industries especially do not have to be in the office. They can work from home.”

The first storm of the winter season began Thursday night and will get into full attack late Friday, lasting until early Sunday afternoon. The National Weather Service is forecasting up to two-feet of snow.

While many local residents have often-repeated stories about where they were stuck during past legendary Buffalo snowstorms, like the Blizzard of '77 or Snowvember, remote work changes a lot.

Following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many local companies have invested in tools to allow their employees to work from home. The Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s annual survey found 70% of its members have some form of permanent hybrid work plan.

“So, I think it will be different for those companies,” said BNP President CEO Dottie Gallagher. “But, of course, we have a lot of members who work in manufacturing and health care who can't work remotely.”

So getting enough plow drivers to keep streets and roads open remains a priority. New York Department of Transportation Public Information Officer Susan Surdej said the state will have 480 personnel and approximately 200 plows deployed for the storm.

State pay and benefits mean driver hiring slots are filled, and part-timers will also come on board to give the regular crews a break.

“We have snow blowers. We have loaders. We have graders. We have equipment at the ready. Our salt barns are fully stocked,” she said.

In Niagara County, the Public Works Department is trying something new: dividing the plow force into two groups.

“Each team is on one week, off one week,” said Deputy Commissioner-Highways Dean Lapp. “So, we have two teams alternating. What it does is it streamline the response time to any calls or weather events.”

Lapp says his plow crews know the many winter trouble points across the heavily rural county and how to deal with them. Besides, many of the most important roads are plowed by state crews.

Erie County DPW Commissioner Bill Geary said his workforce is also ready for the winter assault. He has five new plow trucks, a quarter of a million dollars each, to be out there, with a contest to name all the plows.

“So, we're good. But we have other resources within the department to pull mechanics, if we need, or supervisors into the driving,” Geary said. “But we should have more than enough staff on hand for this.”

On the really local level, retired State Trooper and Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas said his plows are ready for the storms which sweep in from the lake, but that the city has to balance its needs with citizen needs.

“Some people have pensions that are not so accommodating, financially,” he said. “So, when we say fixed income, we mean it. Every dollar counts and with the price of gas going up as it has and natural gas going up as well, all the utility bills are going up.”

For those in even tougher shape, two Code Blue shelters are already open.

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