The storm, which descended on the United States just before the busy Christmas holiday weekend, led to unusually cold weather in much of the country, including southern states like Texas and Florida.
Temperatures were moderating nationwide on Wednesday, including in Buffalo, even as the region remained in triage mode.
The city, on the shores of Lake Erie near the Canadian border, has seen a majority of the storm-related fatalities.
As temperatures plummeted on Friday night, commuters and some residents fleeing their freezing homes became trapped on highways, with first responders unable to reach them.
“There are multiple unidentified bodies at this point,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on Twitter. “I offer my very deepest sympathies and condolences to all who have lost a loved one from this terrible Blizzard.”
The National Guard planned to conduct door-to-door wellness checks for every home in areas that lost power, Poloncarz said on Twitter, while reiterating that a driving ban was still in effect for Buffalo.
Officials also began bracing for the next possible crisis: The impact of large amounts of melting snow.
In advance of temperatures reaching into the 50s degrees Fahrenheit by Friday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul late Wednesday ordered deployment of pumps and sandbags in case of “potentially dangerous flooding conditions.”
Southwest Airlines was still days away from resolving its systemwide breakdown: The carrier cancelled more than 2,500 flights on Wednesday, accounting for nearly 90 per cent of all scrubbed US flights, according to tracking website FlightAware.
In a series of media appearances, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recounted telling Southwest Chief Executive Bob Jordan that the government would “hold them accountable” in requiring the airline to compensate customers for the mounting costs of cancelled flights and travel-related expenditures.
Jordan said he was “truly sorry” and promised to “make things right for customers”, according to a video statement posted to Southwest’s website.
“We’re optimistic to be back on track before next week,” he added.
Jordan has acknowledged that the problems have underscored the need to upgrade outdated trip scheduling software that became overwhelmed in the storm.
The problem has been highlighted by the flight attendants union, which has called on Southwest to invest more on employees. Several leading Southwest unions remain locked in contract negotiations after earlier pacts expired.
Another union, the TWU Local 555, which represents ground workers, said the meltdown reflected Southwest’s failure to adapt its systems as its operations have evolved.
“Although it can be complicated, especially during the holiday season, we need to consider better spacing of flights during extreme weather events in the bitter cold of winter – as well as the extreme heat of summer,” said Local 555 President Randy Barnes.
Recognizing that Southwest would not get them to Boston from Arizona in time for Monday’s NHL Winter Classic, Tim Maher rented a car for his family and launched a cross-country drive.
Maher told CNN the ride itself had been surprisingly fun, but the family did not have its luggage – a common problem for customers.
“People have gifts or medication or electronics in those bags they just handed you, thinking they’d get it in a couple of hours,” Maher told the network.