Buffalo, New York snow removal can be difficult!
Buffalo, New York snow removal can be difficult and sometimes feels like it will never end. By January, most people have clearly had enough of it and are ready for spring. There are some winters that seem to hang on a little more tightly than we would like. The Winter of 1976-77 was one of those winters. Its relentless cold and snow set the stage for one of the worst blizzards in Buffalo history.
The Start of a Long Winter
Before we can talk about the Buffalo Blizzard of 1977 we have to discuss the months of winter that preceded it. One of the things that makes this blizzard so unique was the setup before it came roaring across Lake Erie.
The first recorded snow for that season was on October 9, 1976. The first accumulating snow was recorded on October 21st. Along with that snow was unseasonably cold air. By the end of October, Lake Erie was measuring 48 degrees Fahrenheit, which was the coldest on record. The temperatures in November were the coldest since 1880, about 11 degrees below normal.
December continued the trend. Temperatures stayed 11 degrees below normal, hovering at 22 degrees on average. This led to the freezing over of a variety of bodies of water all over the northern tier of the United States. By December 14th, Lake Erie was 95% frozen over. This becomes important because once the lake is iced over it can no longer inject humidity into the air that passes over it.
That humidity produces lake-effect snow, which is heavier and reduces blizzard-like effects. The downside is that it will ramp up the amount of snow brought by any storm that passes over one of the Great Lakes. Normally, lake effect snow keeps Buffalo, New York snow removal companies very busy. That was tempered in January of 1977.
The Genesis of the Blizzard
Throughout December and early January, multiple Alberta Clippers raked across the Great Lakes. It snowed in the region almost every day since the week after Christmas. The comparatively dry air over Lake Erie caused the snow to break apart and collect on the ice shelf west of Buffalo. That snow collected into 3-4 foot snow drifts over about 10,000 square feet of the northeastern end of the lake by late January.
On January 25th the strongest of the the Alberta Clippers for that season came racing across Lake Superior. Ahead of it, an Arctic blast of cold temperatures had plummeted down to the Caribbean. This prevented any kind of January thaw from affecting snow that had already fallen. It also meant that moisture-laden air from the Gulf of Mexico was being funneled up to the region around Lake Erie. This was bad news for Buffalo.
The Clipper carried with it enough cold and the southern storm enough humidity to drop over a foot of snow all along its path. The more northern track of this storm meant that it hammered northeastern Ohio, northwest Pennsylvania, and western New York. This put Buffalo in the unenviable position of taking the storm head-on.
The Blizzard Arrives
The morning of January 28, 1977, was relatively routine, with yet another winter storm moving into the Great Lakes region. What set this event apart was the convergence of three powerful weather systems: a low-pressure system moving east from the Ohio Valley, a surge of Arctic air from the north, and moisture-laden air from the Gulf of Mexico. As these systems collided over the Great Lakes, they created a meteorological monster that would go down in history as one of the most severe blizzards to hit the United States.
As the leading edge of the storm moved over Lake Erie, it did so from a different angle than the previous storms. With 40-mile-an-hour winds, it picked up the light, powdery snow off of the ice shelf and launched it at the city. Forecasters had been reluctant to refer to the oncoming storm as a possible blizzard, downplaying the storm’s potential. The city had already experienced a harsh winter and the economic impact of a shutdown over a nother stow storm was felt by everyone. As it approached the area the forecasters recognized the storm as a blizzard. The first blizzard warning was put out at 10:00 AM. The storm hit the city within an hour.
Observers on the upper floors of the M&T Bank Building watched the storm roll in. It appeared as a grey and white wall of snow pushing into the city. It covered everything in its path and there were no edges to the storm that could be seen. The blast of wind and snow hit the building in the center of town at 11:10 AM. The force of the wind caused the floor to noticeably move and a window on the 16th floor to crack.
Impact on Buffalo
Buffalo, nestled on the eastern shores of Lake Erie, bore the brunt of the Blizzard of 1977. The storm hit with unprecedented intensity, bringing with it heavy snowfall, strong winds, and bitterly cold temperatures. The combination of these elements resulted in whiteout conditions, making travel virtually impossible. The city and surrounding areas were blanketed with several feet of snow, and the relentless winds caused massive drifts that engulfed houses, cars, and roads.
Buffalo, New York snow removal services found it difficult to move the snow once it was blown in place. The combination of the strong wind and the fresh moisture coming into the area from the south caused the snow to freeze into solid sheets. In some cases, homes and vehicles had to be chiseled out of the snow with spade shovels and picks. Entire houses were covered over with snow drifts that blocked entry or exit. People were stranded in businesses and schools for days. Those who had tried to beat the storm to their homes and lost found themselves in a dire situation. Many of those who abandoned their vehicles became disoriented and perished in the storm.
The Aftermath of the Storm
The impact on Buffalo was profound, both in terms of human lives and infrastructure. The city came to a standstill as residents struggled to cope with the overwhelming snow accumulation. Schools, businesses, and government offices closed, and transportation ground to a halt. The Buffalo Niagara International Airport was shut down, stranding thousands of travelers. The storm buried a nine-county area in a foot of snow. The snow blown off of the lake added to that total. There were 30-foot drifts all around the Buffalo, New York area that had been driven by winds up to 69 MPH.
The series of storms that had hit the region over the previous two months had stretched equipment and material to the breaking point. By the time the storm arrived over 40% of the city’s plows were out of service for repairs. Roads were already hard to keep clear and the streets were littered with abandoned cars The Buffalo, New York snow removal companies had a hard time keeping parking lots and businesses clear in the days preceding the storm.
Tragically, the Blizzard of 1977 claimed several lives as people succumbed to the harsh conditions. In all, 23 people would lose their lives in Western New York alone. Emergency services were stretched to their limits, grappling with the enormity of the disaster. President Carter declared the region a national disaster area and the National Guard was deployed within hours of the arrival of the storm. The Greater Buffalo International Airport, which had already been struggling to stay open, closed when the start reached them less than 30 minutes after the bank building was enveloped. The sustained wind had increased to almost 30 MPH by that time, with gusts up to 50 MPH.
Challenges Faced in Buffalo, New York Snow Removal
The Blizzard of 1977 left an indelible mark on the community, reshaping the way Buffalo approached winter preparedness and snow removal. It presented unprecedented challenges for snow removal in Buffalo. The sheer volume of snow, combined with the relentless winds, made traditional snow removal methods ineffective. Plows were rendered useless in the face of towering drifts, and roadways became treacherous obstacle courses.
The city’s snow removal infrastructure was ill-equipped to handle such an extreme event. Snowplows struggled to keep up with the pace of accumulation, and salt became ineffective in the frigid temperatures. As a result, many roads remained impassable for days, exacerbating the sense of isolation among residents.
Innovations in Snow Removal
The aftermath of the Blizzard of 1977 prompted Buffalo and other snow-prone regions to reevaluate and revamp their snow removal strategies. The city invested in more robust snow removal equipment, including powerful snowplows and snow blowers capable of tackling substantial accumulations. Additionally, advancements in road de-icing technology were explored to mitigate the impact of freezing temperatures.
Community resilience also played a crucial role in adapting to future winter storms. Neighborhoods organized volunteer efforts to clear snow from streets and sidewalks, fostering a sense of camaraderie and shared responsibility. The Blizzard of 1977 became a catalyst for community-driven initiatives aimed at ensuring swifter and more effective responses to extreme weather events.
Brancato is the Solution to Your Snow Removal Needs
The Blizzard of 1977 remains etched in the memories of Buffalo residents as a defining moment in the city’s history. The storm, born from a convergence of meteorological forces, wrought havoc on the region, challenging its infrastructure and resilience. In the aftermath of the blizzard, Buffalo transformed its approach to snow removal. They adopted innovative strategies and fostered community collaboration to better prepare for future winter challenges.
The lessons learned from the Blizzard of 1977 continue to shape the city’s response to extreme weather events. Those lessons are also a part of what Brancato brings to the table for all of our customers in Buffalo, New York for snow removal services. Our crews are natives of the area and know what to expect from your unique winter weather. Those crews are backed by the experience and equipment that our seasoned and expanding business can give them. That makes them the most reliable and most knowledgeable people that you can rely on to keep your business up and running when it counts.