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Season’s first snow clobbers Great Lakes region from Chicago to Buffalo, thousands lose power

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A rare early October snowstorm left parts of the Great Lakes and Midwest blanketed with 2 feet of snow Friday morning, prompting widespread blackouts, closing schools and stranding travelers.
    The wet, heavy snow downed tree limbs and toppled power lines, leaving 350,000 homes and businesses without electricity in western New York, officials said.
    Workers on snowmobiles delivered food and water to motorists stuck along the New York Thruway, which was shut down for more than 100 miles by the storm. Buffalo’s normally busy downtown streets were deserted.
    ‘‘All the trees are down. No power,’’ said resident Ron Pellnat, surveying the damage. ‘‘It’s Friday the 13th, how about that?’’
    The city’s main airport was closed Friday morning as runways were cleared after at least 14 inches of snow fell, said Tom Paone, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The snow was expected to continue throughout the morning, he said.
    Gov. George Pataki headed to the area Friday and was expected to declare a state of emergency for four hard-hit counties.
    On Thursday, 8.3 inches of heavy snow set the record for the ‘‘snowiest’’ October day in Buffalo in the weather service’s 137-year history, said meteorologist Tom Niziol. The previous record of 6 inches was set Oct. 31, 1917.
    ‘‘This is an extremely rare event for this early in the season,’’ Niziol said.
    Detroit and Chicago also set records, for the earliest measured snow. On Thursday, Detroit broke the mark set on Oct. 13, 1909. Chicago beat a mark twice set on Oct. 18, in 1972 and 1989.
    Detroit’s weather, among other factors, prompted Major League Baseball to move up the start time of Game 3 of the AL championship from 8:19 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday.
    ‘‘It’s definitely not going to be baseball weather,’’ said Dave Gurney of the National Weather Service in Michigan. ‘‘Around 45 degrees, wind gusts up to 35 mph and some snow showers.’’
    Only a few players braved the cold to practice outdoors at Comerica Park on Thursday.
    The New York State Thruway was closed for 105 miles from Rochester to Dunkirk, southwest of Buffalo because of the storm. Highway spokeswoman Sarah Kampf said she did not know when the road would be cleared or how many motorists were stranded there.
    Crews worked through the night to restore power, but many customers were expected to remain in the dark through the weekend and into next week, National Grid energy company spokesman Steve Brady said.
    Brady said the snow was especially heavy and was weighing down tree limbs that mostly still have leaves.
    ‘‘Our people are getting stuck in the driveway here,’’ Brady said.
    Dozens of schools were closed and towns declared states of emergency, and unnecessary driving was banned in Buffalo and some suburbs.
    ‘‘We have a condition where 80 percent of the roads are impassable,’’ said Amherst Police Lt. Stephen McGonagle.
    One of the few signs of life Friday in Buffalo was children throwing snowballs and digging in snow on the unexpected day off from school.
    ‘‘It’s pretty cool because we get to build snow forts,’’ said 10-year-old Christopher Platek. ‘‘We get to bury ourselves in the snow!’’
    Associated Press Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report from Detroit.
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