The Blizzard That Buried Buffalo
Buffalo, New York has the distinction of being called snowiest city in the United State and many Americans may think that snowstorms routinely bury this westernmost New York city but for long time residents of Buffalo, “The Blizzard that Buried Buffalo” refers to only one storm. The blizzard of 1977 is commonly referred to as the “Blizzard that Buried Buffalo” by residents, historians and the news media.
During the blizzard of 1977 snowdrifts were so high that people could touch traffic lights. During the storm snowplows bulldozed more than one automobile because plow drivers couldn’t see cars and trucks completely buried by snow. Buffalo saw snowdrifts up to 30 feet high in some places.
The winter of 1976-77 arrived early to western New York. Both November and December were cold and snowier than usual. The blizzard of 1977 actually began in December of 1976 when the epic storm started to lay what was to be its wrath. It started snowing in Buffalo Christmas Day 1976 and snowed just a few inches each day for the next month. Snow was minimal each day but over a 30 day period over 35 inches of snow laid on top of over 100,000 acres of frozen Lake Erie.
On January 28, 1977 the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Buffalo. It began snowing early and by noon the blizzard announced itself with a vengeance paralyzing a city that was used to such harsh weather. The warmer than normal temperatures dropped suddenly hovering around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Winds in excess of 70 miles per hour made wind chill temperatures feel like 60 below. Buffalo received seven inches of new fallen snow over the next two days.
Seven inches of snow isn’t a lot of snow for Buffalo however; the excessive winds blew snow off of Lake Erie into the city. Visibility during the height of the storm was 0. Three feet of snow in addition to the seven inches of newly fallen snow soon blanketed Buffalo.
The storm finally ended on February 1, 1977. The sun came out but Buffalo was isolated and seemed desolate. Mayor Stanley Makowski was quoted as saying, “This city is fighting for its life.” President Jimmy Carter issued a state of emergency in four western New York counties and he sent in the National Guard to help the New York State Department of Transportation. But even the National Guard couldn’t handle all of the snow removal and private firms had to be called in.
The storm was expensive to clean up and it wasn’t without tragedy. Twenty-nine people lost their lives in the storm. Most died in their cars from freezing to death or from carbon monoxide poisoning. When spring 1977 finally arrived Buffalo’s total snowfall measured 199 inches. That’s 100 inches over the average that Buffalo typically receives. The winter of 1976-77 still holds the record as being Buffalo’s snowiest winter. And the Blizzard of 1977 is still studied by meteorological students and is still labeled as “The Blizzard that Buried Buffalo”.