While many other cities have blinding storms and teeth chattering cold- some even get more snow-Buffalo has been stuck for more than two decades for being the nations snow capitol.
The Blizzard of 77 ripped through Western New York and southern Ontario, and left a path of destruction much like one that a tornado or hurricane would leave. People were killed, people were stranded, the National Guard was called, but for those who survived it; it was one of the most exciting times of their lives. My family had been living in Buffalo for decades, stemming back from my great-great grandmother. In 1975 my dad moved my mother and my 5 brothers and sisters to Crane Ridge, a small area about 20 minutes outside of Buffalo in the middle of ski country and right across the highway from the areas biggest ski resort. The house sat back in a wooded area as did the rest of the neighborhood and the terrain was hilly. They were not strangers to harsh winters in fact they welcomed them with open arms.
It gave the kids something to do, and my parents a chance to ride around on their snowmobile; house to house. Little did they know that the whole area of New York was in for a big surprise. In 1976, Buffalo was recording record lows. The temperature for the month of October was the lowest it had been in 50 years and November wasnt good either.
In addition to the extreme cold, snowfall in November totaled 31.3 inches, in December 60.7. Even though Buffalo is used to having cold weather, this was something no one was ready for. Because of this unusually cold Weather Lake Erie began to freeze over very early, and by mid December the surface of the lake was completely covered with a layer of ice. What this meant is that from that moment on, every bit of snow that fell on the surface stayed there and did not evaporate or melt. Because of the cold, the snow stayed light and fluffy, and was given no chance to thaw out. On top of all this blistery weather, snow had been falling every single day since November 29th, which by far was a record.
On comes January 26, following 28 straight days of snow, the weathermen forecast a big storm to hit the area, but one that should be tolerable. They predict heavy squalls, and blowing snow, this wasnt out of the ordinary at all. The 27th of January, low pressure crossed lake Erie and moved to James Bay. It then became stalled east of James Bay. The system then actually moved back west over James Bay before finally moving into the Canadian Maritimes.
January 28th, known as the day. At 5am snow began trickling. The snow falling at this time wasnt significant, but the 33 inches of snow already on the ground from the past two months of sustained snow was easy to build on. 8am, the snow started blowing a little harder and semi whiteout conditions that were predicted began. As winds freshened from the south ahead of a strong cold front about two inches of fresh snow fell on the compacted 33-inch base.
During the morning, the temperature rose rapidly from five degrees at midnight to 26 degrees at 11am. For anyone that knows anything about storms, frequent fluctuation of temperature is not a good sign. At 11:35am the front passed through the Buffalo International Airport. In a short time, the visibility went from 3/4 of a mile to 0 and the wind shifted and increased to southwest at 29mph, with gusts up to 49mph.
The temperature fell 26 degrees to 0 in a little under four hours. At this time Buffalo knew it was in for a storm of biblical proportions, the pattern was unlike anything ever saw before. But the worst part about it was that the day had started with all normalcies. Parents went to work and kids went to school, by noon emergency notices were sent throughout Western New York.
Any children that could be picked up and brought home was suppose to be. Schools promptly shut down, and some businesses sent home their employees as well. At the Evans household there was only my mother, fearing the worst she called my dad at 10am and told him to pick up the kids and come home immediately. Newman (my dad) did just that. He told me that on the way home he saw an actual sign that hangs over the highway, made of thick tubular steel broken and laying on the road like a little piece of peanut brittle.
My parents expected the worst. Meanwhile, the kids on the other hand were ecstatic; they wanted the snow to just keep piling up. In talking to my sister she told me that her and my other brothers and sisters sat by the windows and watched for what seemed like hours. Outside, street crews were working profusely to get the snow off the streets as it came. But to no avail, what they cleared would just pile right back up.
In some cases the blowing and drifting made it seem like the snow was falling at an unimaginable rate of 22 inches an hour! The blizzard reached its worst severity during the late afternoon, as winds at the Buffalo Airport averaged 54 miles an hour with gusts clocked at up to 75 miles per hour. Wind chills reached a blistering fifty to sixty degrees below zero. Blizzard or near Blizzard conditions prevailed on and off for the next three days. Ending finally at midday February 1st.
Winds reached daily peaks of 58, 52, 54, and 48mph from the 29th through the first. The storm got so bad, that on the 29th the Buffalo Courier Express, an old traditional newspaper, did not print their daily newspaper for the first time in one hundred and forty three years. The Federal Government also issued a declaration of emergency, which allowed the Federal Government to come in and provide what ever was needed to restore normalcy to the area. By the 30th, Federal officials had taken over all snow removal operations and had support by the nearly 600 National Guardsmen called in to assist with help.
When the sun finally came out on February 1st, its cold light revealed a scene of incredible desolation in the Buffalo area and in Western New York. The city and much of the surrounding counties banned all traffic for several days. The Army was called in from Ft. Bragg, N.C.
to augment the National Guard. ? The storms toll was felt by all. Factories and industries were closed for over a week. At the Buffalo Zoo, over 20 animals were dead because of the storm. About 8 others escaped from their enclosures, via the natural 20-foot drifts and were wandering around the streets. Mail was suspended for a week, and the Sabres hockey games and the Braves basketball games were all postponed.
People were found frozen to death trapped inside cars and in the snow. In some cases people were trapped inside their cars for almost 12 hours. 9 people died in cars. 30 people in all perished in the storm. Hundreds of others were injured, some severely. 6 houses were completely demolished, and the city roads and sidewalks were torn up as well from the cold.
When all was said and done, this gigantic event cost the city of Buffalo $300 million dollars. ? Still to this day the Blizzard of 77 is the only winter storm to warrant the label of National Disaster area. President Carter declared the whole Western New York area a National Disaster Area, which meant even more national help. ? Little will be forgotten about the Blizzard of 77.
It wasnt all bad though, the city realized that it had to be ready for such severe storms and the following year they beefed up their plowing equipment from 25 plows to 44. Salt houses were built all around the city, and the storm news technology was updated on a yearly basis. A lot was learned by this storm. Because of it, cities across the nation keep a better eye on developing weather systems, plus they found it necessary to beef up their snow moving equipment too. Currently, Buffalo has the nations third biggest fleet of snow moving devices, and will never be surprised by such a huge storm again. In the words of Erno Rossi, It was like you were looking out from the inside of a milk bottle.
He later went on to write the book The White Death, a book solely about the Blizzard of 77. For most people, remembering the storm will be easy. Instead of remembering the bad parts and the tragedy of it, they will remember the comradery of it. Between household to house hold, families had to stick together, share each others surplus and help each other out in the times of scarcity. My family included; many people made the best of their time off, and the abundance of snow. I cant tell you how many stories Ive heard about how my brothers and sisters would sled from the top of the roof all the way down to the bottom of the hill, on a 40-inch cushion of snow.