BUFFALO, N.Y. (WCMH) — Waves of blinding snow, punctuated by thunder and lightning, reduced visibilities to near zero at times in parts of western New York the past several days.

Massive snow totals of 2 to 6 feet encased communities in a deep blanket of heavy wet snow, burying vehicles and stranding motorists. Several hundred people were rescued during the storm, and the National Guard was called in Saturday afternoon in the Southtowns, southeast of metropolitan Buffalo, to provide assistance.

Dozens of flights were canceled at Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The runways reopened Sunday morning. A state of emergency was declared in several counties that prohibited all but essential travel.

Cars buried in the snow early Saturday in Williamsville, N.Y. (Brianne Betts)

Buffalo officially tallied 36.7 inches at the airport, with 21.5 inches falling on Nov. 19. Eleven miles southeast of Buffalo at Orchard Park, home of the NFL Buffalo Bills, 80 inches of snow accumulated since the start of the prolonged event on Nov. 16. The scheduled Sunday afternoon game against the Cleveland Browns was moved to Detroit.

A total of 66 inches reported in a 24-hour seige would establish a new New York state snowfall record if verified by the state climatology office. The previous 24-hour snowfall intensity record was 50 inches at Camden on Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 1966.

In northern New York, Watertown picked up 58.5 inches in recent days, as snow-laden winds moved off Lake Ontario bearing bursts of wind-driven snow.

As much as 6 to 12 inches of fresh snow fell on Sunday in narrow bands across western New York and northern Pennsylvania, and in the northeast corner of Ohio, as a reinforcing arctic cold front opened the gates for snow squalls to develop over the lakes and move inland.

Snowfall northwest of Hamburg, N.Y., totaled 73.7 inches. (Chelsea Kilbury)

What Made This Lake-Effect Snowfall Historic

The prolonged lake-effect snowfall was sustained by a pool of frigid air aloft, several mid-level disturbances, and low pressure hovering over the northern Great Lakes that caused lift and condensation.

Despite the presence of dry arctic air, the relatively warm lake water temperatures were in the low 50s while readings were 40 degrees colder near the base of the clouds several thousand feet overhead. This setup produced great instability that caused moist air to evaporate and rise rapidly, forming bands of intense snow squalls.

The trajectory of winds across the length of the Great Lakes, coupled with convergence caused by winds slowing down after crossing the lakes and meeting air turning toward lower pressure over the water, added to the lift of moist air, which was further enhanced ascending higher inland terrain.