Nature December 21, 2016
A Terrifying, Deadly Storm Struck New York In 1977 And No One Saw It Coming
New York has seen its fair share of historic blizzards. With our western borders lying along the shores of both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, this half of our state has become all too familiar with troublesome lake-effect snow storms. Most of our current residents will likely remember our epic
Snowvember blizzard from two years ago, but if you thought that was bad? Well, then you should have been around for the terrifying (and even more deadly) snow storm that left the city of Buffalo and other surrounding areas completely helpless in 1977.
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After experiencing several months of below-average temperatures, the Western and Northern regions of New York were hit with a deadly snow storm in 1977.
On Friday January 28th at 4AM, the National Weather Service of Buffalo reported that the city was due to be hit with near blizzard conditions in the late afternoon, continuing on throughout the night.
By 11AM, for the first time ever the National Weather Service of Buffalo issued yet another Blizzard Warning.
By 11:35AM those who were in the city of Buffalo could see lightning in the dark and cloudy sky, with an enormous wall of snow reaching the airport by 11:30AM. Visibility quickly began to drop, with wind speed increasing from 29MP to 49MPH. Within just four hours of the storm hitting the area, the National Weather Service reported the temperature dropping from 26 degrees Fahrenheit to a whopping 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
By 1PM Buffalo was already reporting snow as high as our car bumpers. And while the actual snowfall was nearly obsolete by 1:30PM, the end of the city's troubles were far from over.
The snow came and the snow came quick. Pilling up at a speedy rate, the parts of Buffalo that were nearest to Lake Erie had impassable roads within a half-hour of the storm starting.
Once Buffalo's radar detected that there was hardly any snow falling, the city quickly realized that it was being pummeled with snow that was coming off of frozen Lake Erie.
Like we said, this season was an unusually cold one. In New York during the months of November, December and January our state saw below-average temperatures that had us bundled up more than usual. By
December 14th, 1976 Lake Erie had completely frozen over. Normally our residents would be cheering over a frozen lake because that prevents storms from picking up the lake's moisture and producing lake-effect snow, but not this season. Frozen for well over one month, Lake Erie was covered in mass amounts of powdery white snow that the 1977 Blizzard was now blowing all over the city.
With people taking shelter wherever they could find it, an estimated 13,000 residents were stranded in the city and roughly 10,000 cars were abandoned all over Buffalo.
By Saturday January 29th, Main Street was filled with around 2,000 abandoned vehicles. Over the course of the storm's aftermath, many areas in Western New York like Niagara Falls and Buffalo banned all unnecessary travel in an effort to keep the streets open for emergency vehicles. That is, the streets that were even cleared....
The storm would be significant to Buffalo in more ways than one, setting record-low temperatures and the
Buffalo Courier-Express making history by not publishing for the first time in its existence.
On Friday, the storm set a record-low temperature of -7 degrees Fahrenheit for that date, breaking the previous record that had been kept since 1885. Other notable happenings? Winds reached a record high of 51MPH, mail service didn't return until February 2nd and Buffalo City Schools saw over ten consecutive snow days, returning back to class right on Valentine's Day. Talk about a memorable winter break!
By the time the horrendous Blizzard of 1977 was through with New York, it would take the lives of 23 people.
Some records will show that the storm took a total of 29 lives, but it's at least safe to say that 23 of our residents did not make it through this storm. With more than ten of the deaths happening in Buffalo, some of our residents reportedly had heart attacks while attempting to shovel through the show while at least 9 of the overall deaths were those who had been buried in their cars.
But it wasn't just Buffalo and the Western region of New York that was affected by the blizzard, northern areas like Jefferson and Lewis Counties managed to get hit with lake-effect snow.
Sure Lake Erie may have been frozen over for quite some time, but unfortunately for our northern residents, Lake Ontario almost
never freezes over. By late Friday afternoon, Watertown reportedly had zero visibility and wind speeds of nearly 30MPH. The blizzard mixed with our un-frozen Lake Ontario created the perfect storm and hit the Watertown area with over 60 inches of snow, leaving over a thousand people stranded.
In news headlines all over the country for nearly two weeks, by the time the storm was finished over 500 National Guardsman had come to New York to help us out with the disaster.
New York wasn't the only state to be majorly affected by the Blizzard of 1977, on Saturday January 29th President Jimmy Carter declared an emergency for both New York and Pennsylvania. On February 9th, Buffalo saw above-freezing temperatures for the first time since Christmas.
Today, our residents who were around for this storm are reminded of the Blizzard of 1977 every time it snows in Western New York. To take a step back in time, check out this old news footage from the storm provided by
staffannouncer on YouTube!
Do you remember this unbelievable blizzard that paralyzed Western New York? If you have your own photos or stories from the Blizzard of 1977, be sure to share them with us in the comments!