Buffalo snow-pocalypse: Stuck in a truck

Sonia Straface

TORONTO, Ont. – Earlier this week Brian Foster, a professional driver for Ontario-based J.G. Drapeau Transport, made a delivery he’ll never forget.

On Tuesday, the snowfall in Buffalo, N.Y. shocked residents when an incredible seven feet of white fluffy stuff covered their roads, yards, and cars. Buffalo and surrounding area were (and still are) in a “snow-pocalypse” as it has been dubbed on social media, because of the lake-effect, a weather phenomenon that happens when cold air moves across warm water (Lake Erie) and forms steam clouds.

A travel and driving ban were issued in the city, pro-sports games have been postponed and relocated and residents have been opening their front doors to a wall of white.

After picking up a load in Indiana, Foster was driving back up to deliver in Fort Erie on Tuesday afternoon. He was just 30 kilometres west of Buffalo, in a housing subdivision when the unrelenting snowfall filled up the roads.

“I was driving along and I just couldn’t go anymore,” said Foster, 65, who has been a professional driver since 1979 and has been driving with J.G. Drapeau for 34 years. “There was too much snow. So I pulled over and then a neighbour came over and asked me if I was okay and they invited me into their house…they fed me and gave me a place to sleep so that was very nice of them.”

Foster was one of the lucky drivers who just happened to be in the right place at the right time – parking in a subdivision with kind residents. Reports of some truckers running out of water and food in their cab have been surfacing of late because of how long they’ve been trapped on the sides of the highways.

When he awoke Wednesday morning, Foster said he went out to his truck to try and dig himself out. To his dismay, snowplows – what was supposed to be a saving grace – came by and buried his truck deeper in the snow.

“I tried listening to the news to see what was going to happen and what everyone was going to do but nothing was happening fast enough,” said Foster.

Eventually a tow truck came to pull Foster out on Wednesday afternoon, but it wasn’t smooth sailing as more snow came pouring down. He said he didn’t travel more than seven miles before the roads were closed again. Luckily, he parked near a Tim Hortons and eventually got to sleep that night.

On Thursday morning Foster woke up to a city that was again lifeless. The Tim Hortons he had parked in was closed, so breakfast wasn’t an option. He carried on with the water bottles he had stored in his cab.

He eventually made it to the Fort Erie Truck Stop Thursday evening after being escorted by a state vehicle, where he got to eat and shower and take a much needed rest.

“It was a real mess, it was a nightmare,” he said of the whole ordeal. “There were lots of trucks I saw that were stranded.”

Foster said he was lucky and thankful that he was taken in by the kind family on that first night.

“If I had to stay one more night (in Buffalo), I would have been in big trouble,” he said. “I was out of food and I was on my last bottle of water.”

Additionally, Foster’s truck came out of Buffalo unscathed and without any sort of damage.

He added the mood in the city wasn’t one of panic or worry, but that he saw and heard of a lot of good deeds going on and that many people were being rescued and sent to hotels.

When Margaret Hogg, general manager of J.G. Drapeau heard Foster, as well as another one of her drivers, was stuck in Buffalo she said she felt sick.

“My insides turned completely,” she said. “I haven’t slept since. Last night when I got the phone call around 6 p.m. from the dispatcher saying he made it across my heart just kind of starting singing again. It’s one of those moments that make you just pray and think about it constantly.”

Hogg said that the first thing she did when she saw Foster was give him a hug.

“He’s like a brother to me,” she said.

Despite the circumstances, Foster was able to make his delivery and Hogg says his efforts will not go unrewarded.

“I think both drivers deserve a nice weekend away,” she said saying that she would be organizing for both of them to have a short trip with their spouses.

Hogg said the other J.G. Drapeau driver that was stuck in the Buffalo snowstorm has been re-routed. He is currently going through Sarnia area and is doing fine.

Kevin Hall, vice-president of Keith Hall and Sons Transport based in Burford, Ont. also has as a driver who has been stranded in Buffalo since Tuesday.

According to Hall, his driver Peter Lucci was delivering in Buffalo on Tuesday morning and got empty early. Lucci decided to park at a truck stop because of the worsening weather and road conditions.

Hall said that Lucci has been in his cab since Tuesday, but because there is a restaurant and facility at the truck stop, his supplies have been good so far.

“(We are) just waiting for driver to let us know when he has been dug  out, at the mercy of the locals with big shovels,” said Hall.

Sonia Straface

Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface.

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  • I know full well what some of these drivers are experiencing although not nearly as bad as I have nearly 20 years commercial driving and cross border travel as well. I remember during one trip to Vanier Q.C I parked in that service center in the middle of the Trans-Canada east of Montreal and woke up later to almost a foot of snow and the service plaza hadn’t been plowed out so I stayed till later in the morning so I could have a better chance to make the drive. Other occasions I recall parking in various truck-stops when the weather would get bad and wait it out til it was better. Another occasion I was heading north to Ontario from Elmira N.Y. and as I headed north on I390 I carefully passed a string of slower trucks with snow squalls happening thinking it was better out front, then it was my turn to slow down as I couldn’t see either and when a white-out occurred I just slowed down and now had probably 5-7 trucks behind me who couldn’t see either. I kept it as straight as I could and then felt a slight bump, bump and then just let of the fuel and found I had just barely drove onto the shoulder where it was deeper snow and there I sat for almost 4 hours. I was also low on fuel (dangerously low, and had to shut off one side so the fuel wouldn’t drain over to the low side in order to keep warm ) A tow truck came and towed me out and I once again headed north to the first truck-stop at Dansville N.Y I arrived there amongst a lineup of trucks, got fuel and stayed there as the roads had been close northwards past that exit, that day. I have also regularly traveled I81 between Watertown and Syracuse and in that stretch you can experience whiteout conditions and poor driving conditions daily and there aren’t many truck-stops along that stretch and a few rest areas only two actually with washrooms and running water. So I sort of know what can be experienced maybe not as bad as this recent lake effect snow in N.Y.

  • Being snowbound was something I experienced a few times in my 30 yrs of long hauling, getting to a safe place to park was usually the biggest trial.
    I remember going from Buffalo on I-90 west toward PA and getting caught in a blizzard, the snowplow operators were on the CB asking truck drivers to pick up stranded motorists who were stuck on the sides of the highway, I took a mom and her 2 grown sons into my truck
    their car had quit and they were freezing it took about 3 hours to get to the old TA that was open at that time just past the toll booths at Ripley.
    In the winter I always tried to make sure I had lots of fuel, and since I cooked most of my meals in the truck I carried several days of food as well as a couple of cases of water, even if you don’t cook I don’t understand how some drivers don’t carry at least a few days of rations with them even on short trips.
    I was going across Ohio on my way to MO and the thruway was blocked by a set of trains laying across it so I decided to take a 2 lane across country it was slow going with drifting snow and then it got dark.
    I could hear drivers talking on C.Bs at a truck stop so I asked them were they were and gave them my location I asked if there was room for me and they started talking among themselves to figure out something some of them repositioned and gained a few inches by pulling their mirrors in and by the time I got there they had made a space for me, I have always remembered that and tried to make room for “one more truck” any time I was snowbound.
    I’ve been retired for 4 years now but well remember some of those times.

  • Oh what an appealing career for young people. Sit on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, for hours or days, no food, no bathroom, etc. All for free I’m sure. And if you can find a place to park, you’re stuck spending more money than normal on food & supplies out of your own pocket, again while earning absolutely zero.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see the DOT look at it as an opportunity to hand out tickets, as I’m sure all those electronic logs are showing drivers over their hours as they’re trying to beat the storm or find a place to park. A truck in a residential area, I bet that driver will receive a ticket shortly for being off a truck route. Interesting how all these “rules” get thrown out the window when the “real world” affects the public.