(CNN)- Buffalo, New York, is no stranger to snow, but Tuesday’s lake-effect storm and its upwards of 6 feet of snow was the stuff of struggle and stretches to describe its dangerous effects.
“This storm is basically a knife that went right through the heart of Erie County,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “I can’t remember and I don’t think anyone else can remember this much snow falling in this short a period.”
More than 70 inches of snow are expected in parts of Buffalo before it’s over, but Mayor Byron Brown insisted “the city is open, the city is operational with the exception of South Buffalo.” Even the Buffalo Sabres would take the ice Tuesday night.
The snow left people stranded in cars, turned roadways into parking lows and forced some emergency responders to rely on snowmobiles provided by volunteers. It blanketed the area at a rate of three to five inches an hour.
Buffalo was not alone.
Every state in the Union had a place somewhere within its borders registering temperatures below freezing Tuesday morning.
That included Hawaii, where the temperature at Mauna Kea on the Big Island dropped to 31 degrees.
In Florida, it was in the upper 20s in the Panhandle and freeze warnings were in effect.
And it’s not over: Another surge of cold air is likely by Wednesday to Thursday in the Midwest and Northeast. The Southeast could see record lows Wednesday morning as temperatures drop into the teens and 20s.
The cause of this mayhem: Arctic air pouring over the relatively warm Great Lakes waters is producing extreme lake-effect snows.
CNN meteorologist Chad Myers calls it thunder snow.
“The steam from the lake … (is) still much warmer than the air,” he said. “The air is in the teens and the water in the 40s. That steam comes up and wants to rise. That rise … creates a thunder storm but it’s so cold it doesn’t rain. It just snows.”
Tuesday was the coldest November morning since 1976, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL Analytics. The average overnight low for the Lower 48 states was 19.4 degrees, Maue said.
This is highly unusual for this time of year and is much more reminiscent of a pattern forecasters would expect to see in January or February, not November.
Snow totals could approach 70 inches south of Buffalo — almost 6 feet of snow. Lancaster, New York, has already received over 40 inches of snow, and it continues to snow at 4 to 5 inches per hour. Some areas in Erie County, Pennsylvania, have already seen 3 feet of snow. Thunder and lightning have been reported.
Poloncarz Tuesday issued a state of emergency for the county, including a travel ban for all areas of the city of Buffalo south of Genesee Street, and 19 for municipalities. Only emergency vehicles are allowed to travel.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo today the National Guard to help with the emergency in Western New York
The Guard is to bring in motorized equipment that can be used for snow-clearing, and tow trucks.
Some roadways already had turned into parking lots of abandoned vehicles and stranded motorists, CNN affiliate WKBW reported.
Many communities had 3 to 4 feet of snow dropped on them during the 15-hour storm, with emergency vehicles and plows stuck in the snow, the station reported.
A bus carrying 24 members of the Niagara University Women’s Basketball program was stuck on a highway because of the snow, CNN affiliate WIVB reported. The team was returning home from a game in Pittsburgh. The bus hit the storm about 1 a.m., the station reported. By 2 a.m., it wasn’t moving.
The bus with players and coaches on board pulled over on the side of the road in West Seneca.
Director of basketball operations Renee Polka told WIVB: “We’ve been stuck on the bus for nine hours. So you kind of get the gist. There is currently no sign of progress,” she said.
To make matters worse, this is only the first band of heavy snow in the Buffalo region. More snow is expected on Wednesday, and then the lake-effect snow bands set up again for Wednesday night into Thursday with very heavy snow likely again. This could rank high in the history of lake-effect snow events.
Over half the country — 50.2% — had snow on the ground Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.
Cuomo also announced that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the nation’s largest public transit system, has activated NYC Transit’s 2014-2015 winter operations plan in anticipation of the snow season.
The plan includes new snow-fighting equipment for the department’s buses, new improved cold-weather and communications equipment, and increased planning and collaboration with the Department of Sanitation, Cuomo said in a statement.