A winter storm is heading for Western New York, just as many residents are likely looking to get away.
The National Weather Service in Buffalo issued a winter storm warning on Monday for heavy snow and freezing rain in effect from 1 p.m. today to 1 a.m. Thanksgiving, for both Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.
The storm will be a prolonged event with 8-14 inches of snow expected to result in hazardous driving conditions, with visibility as low as a half-mile at times.
For Thanksgiving, according to the American Automobile Association, the highest volumes of travelers plan to travel on Wednesday and return the following Sunday with another 24 percent expecting to return on Monday, Dec. 2 or later.
The Chautauqua County Department of Public Facilities along with the county Sheriff's Office want to encourage drivers to use caution while driving this holiday season.
"First and foremost, slow down," Sheriff Joe Gerace said of winter travel, adding that the majority of accidents the sheriff's office responds to are speed-related.
"It takes longer to get places," Gerace added. "Give yourself adequate time to get there. It can be fatal if you're not careful."
Approximately 38.9 million people plan to travel by car this Thanksgiving.
"It takes a lot longer to stop when the roads are snow-covered," Gerace said. "It takes more time to get out into an intersection, to enter the roadway, to make that turn. Things are done at a different pace."
Both Gerace and George Spanos, Public Facilities director, suggest motorists equip their vehicles for with proper snow tires, wiper blades and windshield washer fluid. It's also important to clean off all of the snow from the entire vehicle.
"Visibility is a factor," Gerace said, adding that deer are on the move.
The sheriff's office has reported 56 deer-car accidents so far this month. The figure does not include other accidents responded to by Jamestown, Ellicott, Lakewood-Busti and state police.
"If a deer crosses a road in front of you, chances are there are other deer crossing after them," Gerace said, noting that factors such as mating season and hunting season may cause higher deer traffic.
Hitting a deer directly is safer than swerving out of the way, according to Gerace.
"A lot of times, it ends in tragedy," he said. "People end up hitting the deer anyway, or vere off the road."
He said lightly lifting off of the breaks just before impact brings the front end of the car slightly higher off of the road, lowering the chances of the animal breaking the windshield. The easiest way to avoid hitting a dear is to drive at a slower pace.
"Snow is a fact of life in Chautauqua County, so we must be prepared for winter," Spanos said. "The county's snow removal and ice control plan is designed to improve safety for motorists, ensure emergency responders reach their destination, and enhance movement for motorists and economic activities."