… it snowed. The temperature was well below normal. For the month of January, the average temperature was 10 degrees F (-12.2 C). Snow had been falling on a daily basis since some time in December. So, if it had been snowing every day, why was snowfall on January 17th, 1977, big news?
|Note: In 1977, I did not have a
camera. Therefore, the photographs
were not from the Blizzard of
1977 but are, instead, just random
snow pictures taken in the
past few years.
The snowfall and the unusually cold temperatures were just two of a variety of weather conditions that were very unusual when they all occurred together. Here is another: Lake Erie was frozen solid on December 14th, which was a record. Never before had the lake been frozen that earlier. When the lake freezes, the lake effect snow machine shuts down. So did that mean that there should be less snow that year.
Well… no… it didn’t work out that way… all of this was just the prelude to an enormous blizzard: the infamous Blizzard of 1977. The blizzard actually struck on January 28th.
This is my story:
It was a snowy and very cold winter day on January 28th, 1977. I was at home, on winter break from the State University of New York at Brockport. In a few days, I would be returning to college. Or so I thought.☃
When I woke up, I could hear the wind howling and I could see the snow falling sideways. My father, Roy, and I were alone in the house. My mother, Roslyn, was a visiting professor of sociology at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. All three of my sisters were away at colleges and universities.
“Should I go to the office or should I stay at home?” my dad wondered. He was the president of an economic consulting business that he co-founded with other economists. He decided to stay at home because the weather conditions looked terrible. The sky was a steel gray, and the snow was starting to fly faster and faster.
My dad and I settled in. At the time, we had no idea that it would take another week before we would be able to emerge from the house. We watched television and we watched the snow falling. On television, we watched movie after movie. We saw newer movies and we saw classical silent movies, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s “The Battleship Potemkin.”
We turned on the television news and heard all of the dire warnings about the weather. We saw the dire warnings realized in images on television: abandoned cars on highways, blinding white-outs, and large objects being carried away by enormous winds. We looked out the window, and we could see nothing. After a few days, we could not longer open the front door for all of the snow that had blown against it. We looked out of the upstairs window and saw that the snow bank had reached the second story of the house.
We were more fortunate than many others. Many people were trapped in the offices where they worked. Their cars were buried under enormous piles of snow. The wind continued to howl and the snow continued to fall, day after day. President Jimmy Carter declared four Western New York to be disaster areas. We were in the center of a disaster. The National Guard was called in to help Buffalo remove the snow. There was so much snow and wind that the National Guard was soon overwhelmed and needed help from private companies.
In Grand Island, everything came to a sudden halt. The bridges were all closed. I called the university and said that I would not be there for the start of the semester.
My dad and I continued to eat our way through the storm in front of the television set. We were lonely for the rest of the family but, when they called, we were always watching a “show.” My dad’s friend called and said, “This has to end. I’ve already gained ten pounds.”
On February 1st, the snow stopped falling, and the winds stopped howling. We opened the door and we were able to walk outside into a world of endless whiteness. We went to the grocery store. There was some food there but it was obvious that it had been a long time since a food delivery. The bread, milk, and eggs were gone. We went to the grocery store mostly to see other people, to know that there was life in our community that, at that moment, felt broken by a relentless wind and by the snow that fell sideways and had, until that last day, taken away our view of the outside world.
I went back to school and my dad returned to working in his office. On some weekends, I returned home and I walked on sidewalks that appeared more like tunnels through the still-massive piles of snow than like pathways. It seemed as if I was on some strange planet that wasn’t quite Earthlike.
But we were fortunate. We had a warm house, plenty of food, and an uninterrupted supply of electricity. I discovered a love for movies. A few years later, when I went to journalism school at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, I made up my mind that film critic would be a great career for me.
Some people, however, were less fortunate. The storm, which some people refer to as a “perfect storm,” took 29 lives away with it. That winter, Buffalo’s total snowfall was 199 inches, which was a dramatic record. The Blizzard of 1977 was called the blizzard that buried Buffalo.
Conversation: In the comments section below, feel free to describe your experience with extreme weather and/ or disasters.