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Live blogging today's storm

Bus accident_003

We'll be following today's winter storm all day, giving updates and passing along reports from staffers as they come in. Here's the latest on the storm. Get the latest forecast and live radar here.

Noon: Buffalo police officers are shutting down the Skyway in both directions because of blowing snow, said police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge. It will be closed for an undetermined amount of time.

--Lou Michel

12:22 p.m.: The Web site for Buffalo Niagara International Airport has been experiencing high volume this morning, causing them to display the more basic mobile version of their site. Right now the departures page shows a couple of cancellations and a couple delays; the arrivals page is showing one cancellation.

12:27 p.m.: The BPO just announced a special: show up at the Kleinhans box office in person while it is snowing, and you get $10 off Holiday Pops tickets.

--Mary Kunz Goldman

12:29 p.m.: Conditions are gorgeous and sunny up in Wilson in Niagara County.

--Nancy Fischer

Bus accident_002

12:36 p.m.: News photographer Harry Scull Jr. has been out in the elements this morning, including the scene of an early-morning bus accident on the Thruway. Nine people were sent to the hospital, but none of their injuries were considered life-threatening. See more of Harry's photos here.

12:49 p.m.: Both NYSEG and National Grid continue to report some power outages across Western New York.

12:53 p.m.: The wind off Lake Erie was so strong at 12:30 p.m. that the destroyer the USS The Sullivans, the USS Little Rock and the submarine USS Croaker were all pulling at their mooring lines.

1:05 p.m.: I was conducting an interview on a sunny, clear Elmwood Avenue at 11:30. But as I drove down Delaware Avenue toward downtown, it became a whiteout. Traffic was creeping.

-- Samantha Maziarz Christmann

1:18 p.m.: Attention skiers: Today is opening day for Holiday Valley and Peek 'n Peak. Also, The News' Fletcher Doyle reports that Bristol Mountain re-opened today after a Wednesday power outage forced it to close. Fletcher gives the latest updates here.

One news plaza

1:30 p.m.: At the Tim Hortons on Delaware Avenue in North Buffalo, the wind was blowing so hard the drive-thru speaker was rocking back and forth big-time. But it was still working. Whew. On the drive down the 190 to One News Plaza, you could see one car in front of you, but the rest was all white.

--Keith McShea

1:39 p.m.: Gene Warner has updated our main story about today's weather. This update from National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Pukajlo, speaking about the storm's return to the city around noon, is especially worth noting: "It's probably going to be up here for a few hours, before it shifts south again." As Gene puts it: "That forecast suggested that the afternoon rush hour, especially toward the south, could be a low-visibility nightmare."

1:49 p.m.: For high schools, the general rule is, if there's no school, there's no sports. We do know that the Federation hockey game between Canisius and Niagara-Wheatfield is on for 7 p.m. at the Amherst Pepsi Center. More here.

--Keith McShea

2:02 p.m.: Reports from Olean are that the St. Bonaventure-Le Moyne game is still on for 7 tonight in the Reilly Center.

2:11 p.m.: Buffalo figures prominently in the Associated Press' storm roundup moving on the wires at this hour. The story, which covers the storm's impact across the country, carries a Buffalo dateline and the byline of one of the AP's Buffalo writers — as well as some color from Western New York.

2:20 p.m.: While their teammates practiced inside the fieldhouse in Orchard Park, Bills kicker Rian Lindell, punter Brian Moorman and long snapper Garrison Sanborn practiced outside during the snow with special teams coach Bobby April.

Moorman didn't seem too pleased about the prospect of practicing punts in drifting snow and 25 degrees (feels like 7) temperatures, but April told him with a smile: "You're not at Pittsburg State anymore."

It was 24 degrees and sunny in Pittsburg, Kan., on Thursday.

(On a non-weather-related note, Chris Kelsay didn't practice.)

-- Rodney McKissic

2:28 p.m.: Road Less Traveled Productions says they'll stay open tonight for their production of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Road Less Traveled Artistic Director Scott Behrend: "They'd pretty much have to close the city down before we'd cancel a show."

--Colin Dabkowski

2:35 p.m.: This evening's Carly's Club holiday event scheduled for 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center has been rescheduled for Monday.

The event brings together pediatric cancer patients and survivors for a holiday gathering. More than 400 were expected for the event, which was to include sleigh rides around Niagara Square, dancing, music and a visit from Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, Buffalo Bills punter Brian Moorman and Santa Claus.

2:47 p.m.: The Larkin at Exchange office building in Buffalo closed at 2 p.m. because of a power outage, forcing all employees and day care children out of the building.

--Sandra Tan

2:53 p.m.: Most interesting snow total of the day: East Aurora got 6.5 inches of snow; Wales, right next door, got 1.5 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

--Bruce Andriatch

3:04 p.m.: Like Road Less Traveled, the show will go on at Alleyway Theatre, where "A Christmas Carol" opens tonight. Alleyway founder and Artistic Director Neal Radice: "Our policy is unless the City of Buffalo declares a driving ban, the show goes on."

--Colin Dabkowski

Delaware

3:07 p.m.: A look above at snow-covered Delaware Avenue in the city at around 12:30 p.m. from The News' Dan Kirchberger.

3:25 p.m.: Driving on the outbound Kensington Expressway shortly before 3 p.m. was a white-knuckle experience. Traffic was traveling below 30 mph on the stretch of the 33 heading out of the city to Parkside. On Parkside, blowing snow from Delaware Park was an issue. Up on Hertel Avenue, the driving wasn't too bad. At Elmwood and St. James Place at about 3:15 p.m., there was light snowfall and some blowing snow.

--Joe Popiolkowski

3:30 p.m.: Gene Warner has again updated our main weather story, and there's (predictably) bad news for commuters. "It's going to be a very slow commute unless the weather improves drastically," said Mike Smith, operations manager for the Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition, which monitors area traffic.

3:34 p.m.: A News staffer calls in to report that the eastbound Thruway in the Hamburg area is a parking lot because of an accident near Exit 56.

3:40 p.m.: All state, county and Buffalo city court activity ended at 3:30 p.m.

--Matt Gryta

3:53 p.m.: The late-afternoon commute from Amherst to downtown on the Kensington was slow and plodding, but devoid of surprises, with most drivers exercising caution. Downtown streets, full of ruts, drifts and challenge, were in sore need of a plow.

--Randy Rodda

Niagara thruway

3:57 p.m.: The snow has let up downtown, but the traffic is crawling on the Niagara Thruway near the Elm Street exit (seen here from The News).

Skyway plows 

Skyway

4:08 p.m.: Plows (seen in the top photo) have been the only vehicles on the Skyway so far this afternoon, though the snow has let up downtown for the moment. 

4:10 p.m.: Our staffer stuck in traffic on the Thruway reports that the accident, right at Exit 56 (Blasdell) and affecting eastbound traffic, appears to have been cleared. He reports that traffic has just begun to move — albeit very slowly.

4:15 p.m.: A caller says he's stuck in traffic on South Park Avenue — always a popular alternate route for downtown commuters headed south — and that cars aren't moving. 

Drive-time snow

4:18 p.m.: News photographer John Hickey sets the scene in the Northtowns, on Colvin Boulevard  in Tonawanda.

4:30 p.m.: Not surprisingly, Twitter, Facebook and other social media are filled with references to the storm, poor driving conditions and savoring the simple pleasure of a mug of hot cocoa.

The storm-related tweets included:

"Tifft cabin feels like an Antarctica research facility today," from "philminkler" at 8 a.m.

"[D]owntown #Buffalo just turned suddenly into an episode of Ice Road Truckers," from "buffalopundit" at noon.

And this photo from "TechieLady" who asked, at about 2:20 p.m., "Now who said they wanted me to send them some of this snow?????"

--Stephen T. Watson

4:35 p.m.: A News staffer coming in from Tonawanda via the Niagara Thruway south started getting delayed at the Niagara Street exit. Getting from the Niagara Street exit to the Elm Street exit took 45 minutes.

4:36 p.m.: Our staffer coming from the Southowns via the Thruway says things are back to a standstill near Exit 56 (Blasdell).

4:55 p.m.: Tonight's 7 p.m. concert at the Ninth Ward, featuring indie rock band The Pines, has been postponed. Date TBA.

--Colin Dabkowski

5:01 p.m.: The Buffalo Niagara International Airport's Web site (still operating in mobile mode) shows seven departures canceled since noon. The picture is just as ugly for arrivals.

BABIS SWARTZ

5:05 p.m.: News photographer John Hickey found Time Warner Cable employees Phil Babison (on the ground) and Tony Swartz braving the elements to do line work on Engelwood in Tonawanda.

5:11 p.m.: Traffic is moving well in both directions on the Niagara Thruway from downtown Buffalo north.

--Dan Herbeck

5:16 p.m.: The Western New York Coalition for the Homeless has issued a Code Blue, which goes into force when temperatures fall to 10 degrees or when wind chill is 0 or lower. The coalition reports that the Belle Center at 104 Maryland St. on the West Side will be the city's only warming center tonight. It's open and will provide food and shelter from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Liberty

5:31 p.m.: Here's a shot from the top of the Liberty Building as the storm moved in today.

5:33 p.m.: The view from One News Plaza: The Niagara Thruway is moving at full speed, but the Skyway remains off-limits.

5:41 p.m.: Still no good news to report from our stranded staffer on the eastbound Thruway just before Exit 56. He first checked in at 3:34 p.m., about 150 feet from the Milestrip Road bridge over the Thruway. He planned to get off of the Thruway at Exit 56 (just past the Milestrip bridge) as soon as he was able. Well, more than two hours later, he still hasn't gotten there.

5:47 p.m.: If you're in your office downtown and dreading a trek to the Southtowns, you know that the Skyway's closing means that many of the alternate routes are jammed. But here's a route south that worked for one Southowns-bound caller we just spoke with: Exchange Street to Van Rensselear to Elk to Bailey to McKinley to Abbott.

5:50 p.m.: Coming down Elmwood through downtown, no major problems. Just a bit slower because of some slippery streets.

--Joe Popiolkowski

6:02 p.m.: An update from the Thruway Authority: The injury accident at Exit 56 that we've been writing about has now been partially cleared. The left lane in the eastbound direction is now open; the right lane remains blocked. This is happening at milepost 432.5.

6:37 p.m.: Keep up to date on the latest weather info here. Right now, it looks like we're in store for a cold Friday, but not as much snow — maybe.

7:02 p.m.: We're going to wind down the live blog for the evening, but stay with www.buffalonews.com for updates throughout the night. And don't forget to check out our gallery of staff photos from today's storm.

A columnist's post-9/11 encounter with woman in Woods scandal

UCHITEL

The name sounded familiar, but I could not at first place it.

Early reports in the wake of Tiger Woods's bizarre car crash last week included the allegation of an affair with a New York nightclub hostess named Rachel Uchitel. She vehemently denied it, saying that the story was sold by a disgruntled acquaintance to the National Enquirer.

Then I saw an interview with Uchitel's mother in Newsday, the Long Island newspaper. It mentioned that her daughter had an emotional collapse after losing her fiance in the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. That is when it hit me.

Uchitel cries I spent the better part of the week after the attack in New York covering the story. One of the columns I wrote dealt with loved ones of the missing who, for days after the tragedy, haunted hospitals and train stations. They posted photos of the victim in public places throughout Manhattan, in the faint hope that the person was hurt or disoriented, but had survived.

One of the people I interviewed, outside of Bellevue Hospital, was an attractive woman in her 20s. Rachel Uchitel's then-fiance, Andy O'Grady, worked on the 104th floor of the WTC.

"I don't feel like I've lost my connection with him," she told me. "If he was dead, I think I would have."

I remember feeling incredibly sorry for her, and for all of the others who — days after
the attack — were still understandably unable to accept what by then was obvious: Their husband or wife, brother or sister, fiance or friend was dead.

I was not happy to see her name associated with the Woods story, particularly in an unflattering — and purportedly untrue — way.

But it was nice to know that she had emotionally recovered from that awful day, and moved ahead with life.

   — Donn Esmonde

Things are tough all over.

   Breaking on The Buffalo News Web site today:
- Deficit grows to $3 billion as Paterson asks for ideas - Tom Precious/The Buffalo News
   ALBANY -- Fiscal officials in the Paterson administration and Legislature believe the state's deficit is at least $3 billion -- $900 million more than estimated in July.Paterson108
   In a letter today to his negotiation counterparts in the Legislature, Robert Megna, the governor's budget director, said the Paterson administration needs the help of lawmakers to close the red ink.
   The request came a couple days after Paterson ordered $500 million worth of savings in state agencies -- which is about as much as he can do on his own, officials say, without approval from the Legislature.
   Hours later, Paterson rejected -- before it was even made public -- a five-year capital program for roads and bridges work around the state, saying the state's precarious fiscal condition will imperil the projects
.

   Elsewhere:
- State's budget faces $415 million shortfall - The Des Moines (Iowa) Register
   State officials must ax $415 million in state spending over the next nine months, the most severe midyear cut in more than 40 years.
   It will mean trims and elimination of some government services, and some state employees will face layoffs.
   A projected nose dive in tax collections prompted Iowa Gov. Chet Culver on Wednesday to vow to cut at least 8.4 percent from the current budget, if not more.

- Heineman calls special session of Legislature to cut budget - The Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star
   The Legislature will meet in special session, possibly beginning Nov. 4, to deal with declining state tax receipts and revise the state budget, Gov. Dave Heineman announced Wednesday....
   General fund tax receipts through Sept. 30, the end of the first quarter of the two-year budget, are below projections for the quarter by $56.8 million, Heineman said. Gross general fund receipts for the month were $358 million, 9 percent below the forecast of $393 million.

- House approves state budget, accompanying tax bill - Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette
   HARRISBURG -- It looks like 100 may be the General Assembly's lucky number, as legislators near the end of arduous work on a long-overdue state budget.
   In a 107-93 vote tonight, the state House approved a state spending plan along with a tax code bill, which includes $1.7 billion in new revenue to fund it...
   The revenue bill raises the cigarette tax by 25 cents per pack, delays the phaseout of a tax on business assets, authorizes leasing of more state forest land for natural gas drilling, depletes the state's "rainy day" emergency fund and starts a tax amnesty program aimed at getting scofflaws to pay up.
   The new taxes, which accompany $2 billion in federal stimulus aid and $25 billion from the sales tax, income tax, corporate taxes and other state revenues, will pay for a fiscal year 2009-10 budget of nearly $27.8 billion. The fiscal year started July 1 -- 99 days ago.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Time 2 - Lucy 0

   I read The News today, oh boy.

   A 4.4 million-year-old fossil nicknamed Ardi has been proclaimed the earliest known ancestor of the human species. She displaces Lucy, a mere 3 million years old, as the furthest back we can get with remains that are recognizable as hominids in our line of evolution.
   Lucy, you may recall, was so named by her discoverers because of the song that had been blaring from their camp tape player, the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

   This about a week after we read that Lucy Vodden, childhood friend of Julian Lennon and inspiration for John Lennon's lyrics to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," had died at age 46 after a long battle with lupus. The story that the song was really an anthem in praise of LSD won't die, supported partly by some things that fellow Beatle Paul McCartney has said. But John and Julian always stuck to their story.

   Of course, both versions could be true. Coincidences, after all, abound.

   If your name is Lucy, I'd be careful. These things tend to happen in threes.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

All news is local

  Some more stories from other newspapers that might sound a little familiar to you, the loyal readers of The Buffalo News:

Here: U.S. sues county over alleged jail abuses - Matthew Spina/The Buffalo News
There: Inmate's death caused by denial of needed medication - The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press

Rapidcity

Here: NYSEG asks more to deliver power, gas - George Pyle/The Buffalo News
There: Black Hills Power looks to increase rates by more than 25 percent - The Rapid City (S.D.) Journal

Here: State pension fund’s value drops $44 billion - Tom Precious/The Buffalo News
There: Oregon governments, schools face big increase in pension costs - The Oregonian

Here: FAA chief cites Flight 3407 crew's cockpit demeanor - Jerry Zremski/The Buffalo News
There: Cockpit chatter cited in six crashes - USA Today   

Here: Going green to pull in conventions - George Pyle/The Buffalo News
There: With Sam's Club departure, KC has now lost its top 3 conventions - The Kansas City Star

Here: Conservancy defends work in Buffalo - Tom Buckham/The Buffalo News
There: Is Great Park a soaring vision or just hot air? - The Los Angeles Times

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Buffalo, you are not alone

Some news from elsewhere. And why it sounds familiar:

- Pavement to Parks Allison Arieff/The New York Times
   Last Friday, cities and towns throughout the world celebrated Park(ing) Day, an event created to bring awareness to the importance of using and enjoying public space.

- Why not turn vacant lots into gardens? Donn Esmonde/The Buffalo News
   Buffalo’s full-bore demolition policy has left in its wake thousands of vacant lots. Next to many of them are homeowners like [Roxanne] Chase, who would gladly turn an eyesore into a lawn for kids to play on or a garden to brighten the street.

- Jail conditions violate rights of prisoners, feds say Laura Maggi/The New Orleans Times-Picayune
   Conditions at the Orleans Parish jail "violate the constitutional rights of inmates," according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice released Tuesday that focused on inmate safety and mental health care....
   Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who runs the jail, lambasted the report, saying it doesn't reflect the current reality at the complex or take into account difficulties his agency has faced since Hurricane Katrina. "This report is a terribly dated, fundamentally flawed work done by people who obviously have little appreciation of the tasks facing a city in recovery from the greatest national disaster in this country's history," Gusman said in a statement.

- State sues county over jail conditions Matthew Spina/The Buffalo News
   The State Commission of Correction charged in a lawsuit Tuesday that the Erie County Holding Center consistently violates state standards and that jail managers have failed to correct the problems, despite their claims. ...
   "This lawsuit is a blatant political attack in an election year to cast negative aspersions on the good work done by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office,” said [Sheriff Timothy] Howard, the Republican incumbent.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

Sick pilots cleared for flying


   How would you like to fly on an airline where the pilots say the following:

   Whether a pilot is sick or tired, airline managers "will harass you until you give up and
fly."

   "It was a battle calling in fatigued. They would do anything they could to talk you out of
it. They just want to get the plane moving."

   "The chief pilot called and started giving me a hard time. And I was just coming out of
general anesthesia."

   That's what pilots and former pilots at Colgan Air, which operated the doomed Continental
Connection Flight 3407 that crashed in Charence in February, have to say.

   So again: How would you like to fly on an airline where the pilots say such things?

   … Jerry Zremski.

Health care reform silent on malpractice reform


   The folks drawing up the health care bill in the House spread ink over more than 1,000
pages … but not a word deals head-on with one of the central complaints of doctors in Buffalo
and nationwide.

   There's no mention of medical malpractice liability reform to fix what
doctors call a lawsuit-happy system that prods them to order extra expensive
tests just to ward off potential lawsuits.

   Experts in the field counter by saying that lawsuits are actually falling in volume and
that any effort to change the system might end up costing more.

   But there are other issues at play, too.

   Might it be that doctors are ordering all those tests because, in some
cases, they profit from it?

   And might it be that Democrats are opposed to liability reform because of
the piggy bank … filled with $178.7 million in 2008 alone … that trial lawyers
provide for them?

   … Jerry Zremski

Kane comes to court, tracked by cameras

About an hour before Patrick Kane's 2 p.m. arraignment, news cameras were stationed on Delaware Avenue outside Buffalo City Court waiting for him to arrive.

   When the 20-year-old Chicago Blackhawk did, along with his attorney and parents, the cameras and reporters followed them through the metal detectors and up to the seventh floor of the courthouse. But they were stopped just outside Chief Judge Thomas P. Amodeo's courtroom door.

   Per the request of defense attorneys, cameras were kept out of the court proceeding.

   Both Patrick T. Kane and his cousin, James M. Kane, 21, pleaded not guilty to charges of third-degree assault and theft of services, both misdemeanors, and harassment, a violation, during a five-minute arraignment.

   After today's court appearance, Patrick Kane addressed reporters outside the courthouse. Listen to his statement here.

Kane arraignment FOR WEB

   Above: Kane is pictured after giving his statement to reporters. (Photo by Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

   An Erie County grand jury convened last week indicted the Kane cousins on the above charges, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita said Wednesday.

  -Here's the story on the latest developments.

   The Kanes are accused of beating 62-year-old cab driver Jan Radecki, leaving him with a broken nose and broken glasses.

   Patrick Kane, a South Buffalo native, participated in orientation camp for the U.S. Olympic team earlier this week.

   James Kane initially hired Daniel Barry Jr., an attorney who works in the Buffalo Legal Aid Bureau, shortly after his arrest. When he came to court today, he was represented by prominent Buffalo defense attorney Joel L. Daniels.

   Patrick Kane's attorney is Paul J. Cambria Jr., another high-profile Buffalo attorney.

   --Aaron Besecker

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