Residents of upstate New York opened their front doors to be confronted by walls of snow yesterday as the northeastern United States was hit by a series of record storms that could deposit more than seven feet of snow in just three days.
The spectacular snowstorms have caused chaos across the region, killing eight people and leaving 4,000 without power, with forecasters warning last night that worst-hit areas could expect a further two-and-a-half feet overnight.
Unable to leave their homes, some residents of Buffalo, New York posted photographs of their "snow-walls", the patterns from their front doors clearly imprinted in the snow. Some enterprising householders even carved shelves into the snow for chilling their beers.
Those left out in the cold suffered, however, with road closures leaving hundreds of people stranded, including a rock band and a university basketball team.
"It's really a catastrophic situation in many ways," said Andrew Cuomo, New York state governor, as he toured television studios yesterday to beg motorists to stay off the roads and non-essential workers to remain at home.
"Buffalo is no stranger to snow and they can handle snow, but this is probably going to break all records for snowfall in Buffalo, which is saying something," Mr Cuomo said on CNN. "And seven feet of snow is virtually unmanageable. The ploughs can't even move seven feet of snow."
Last night the death toll stood at eight, at least six of whom were killed by heart attacks brought on by the effort of shovelling snow. Two others, including an 81-year-old man, died after ambulances were unable to reach them because roads were impassable.
The entire women's basketball team from Niagara University were left stranded in their coach for 30 hours before officials could evacuate them. None was seriously injured, but at one point they were forced to melt snow for drinking water.
And the New York-based rock band Interpol were among those trapped in the snowstorm outside Buffalo overnight, forcing them to cancel a concert across the Canadian border in Toronto.
In a third incident, a Greyhound bus was stranded on Interstate-90 for 34 hours, although the bus company ran an emergency generator to keep passengers warm and entertained.
And in West Seneca New York, firefighters evacuated a mobile home park after the deep snow which had accumulated on top of two trailers caused their roofs to give way.
There have been several reports of homes collapsing, and in Hamburg, New York, police received an emergency call from a man who was desperately attempting to evacuate several animals after the roof of the barn that housed them collapsed.
The Buffalo Bills American football team said it was still planning to host a match on Sunday, offering fans free tickets and $10 (£6.30) an hour to help remove an estimated 220,000 tons of snow from the stadium – an offer that angered local officials who asked fans to stay at home.
So huge were the snowflakes and so dense were the storm clouds yesterday that traditional snow-ploughs could not keep up. The snow fell so fast – 3in per hour – that it compacted under its own weight before it could be shifted.
Overwhelmed, local authorities asked neighbouring counties to scramble hundreds of pieces of plant machinery – bulldozers, excavators and power shovels – to move the mountains of snow. Some machines were summoned from as far away as Long Island, 400 miles to the south.
"My heart goes out to people who were stuck. It must have been a horrifying experience," Mr Cuomo added, asking for patience as abandoned vehicles were blocking roads and hampering the clean-up. "Pretty, pretty please stay off the roads."
With an annual average snowfall of 100in a year, Buffalo and the surrounding towns in western and northern New York state are no strangers to heavy snows, but they were left unable to cope after receiving more than 80 inches in three days – almost an entire season's worth.
Meteorologists said the extreme snow was caused by a phenomenon known as the "lake effect", when cold, Arctic air from the north collides with warmer, moister air on the Great Lakes, to generate spectacular storms.
In some areas residents watched the swirling walls of cloud advancing across the lakes, but were left almost untouched themselves. The localised storms created intense disparities in snowfall with Accuweather reporting that North Tonawanda, New York, had received only half an inch of snow while a few miles to the south, several feet fell.
As the snow continued to fall yesterday, meteorologists said there was a chance that the US 24-hour snowfall record of 76in could be broken – a record that was set in Silver Lake, Colorado on April 14-15 1921.
Last night forecasters warned that residents would not be chilling beers in snow-fridges for long. Temperatures are expected to reach 60F (16C) over the weekend, causing a precipitous thaw that Mr Cuomo warned could trigger a new weather disaster – flash flooding.