Have you heard the lore of the Blizzard of 77? Maybe you even lived through it. If so (and you’re like my family), no other storm could ever be like it again. (Meanwhile, we played a board game called The Blizzard of ’77 with glee as kids.) So what happened, exactly, during that storm?
There’s no need to make light of this storm – it was deadly and heartbreaking to many families. At least 23 people died as a direct result of the blizzard. That’s part of the reason it holds such a solid place in the memories of those who felt it.
The Blizzard of ’77 hit Western New York and Southern Ontario at the end of January. The snowfall during the storm was minimal, but the winds blowing off the frozen Lake Erie blew around the 60 inches of snow already on the ground to create snowdrifts.
Where did the blizzard happen and how bad was it, really?
The Blizzard of 77 happened around the Great Lakes in the U.S., and more specifically the western side of Lake Erie. Western New York and Southern Ontario felt the brunt of its wrath. But most people associate the city of Buffalo, NY with the notorious blizzard.
If you dislike snow (or even if you do like it, just not when it’s in your driveway/on your car), you know even 4 or 5 inches can be enough to wreck your day. But the blizzard brought 100 inches to some places in Western New York. Just not from the sky. More on that in a minute.
Some stories that came out of the event are endearing, others tragic.
Kids gleefully climbed snowbanks to stand on the roof of their houses (back in a time when parents would still kick you outside during the day). Many parents regretted the roof damage that was wrought, especially since if you were going to climb the roof, chances we you were taking the top of the trash can to use as a sled.
Two reindeer at the Buffalo Zoo decided to prance out onto the huge snowdrifts. They waltzed out of their pens and the zoo itself. Maybe they thought they had finally made it home.
On the other hand, nine people were found buried in their cars. Others had heart attacks while trying to shovel the snow. Car accidents took even more lives (there was a travel ban, but not all workers got a day off). The storm cost the area economic losses in the neighborhood of $221 million. That includes $36 million in lost wages for city residents.
Buffalo became known as the city of snow mostly because of the images people saw on the nightly news.
Buffalo’s notorious blizzard of 77
Buffalo made the news around the world because of the photos that resulted from the storm. Of course, most people had to wait to see the photos because you still had to take your film to be developed at the store. And there were no cell phones to check on your family.
People were stuck on roads for hours (which is terribly dangerous if snow covers your tailpipe because you may end up dying from carbon monoxide poisoning, as some do during these types of storms). Babies were delivered at home because emergency vehicles could not get down the streets. The power went out in homes across the area. Families huddled together for warmth (no matter how mad you were at your siblings).
Buffalo and their “southtowns” (like Hamburg and Orchard Park) often get loads of lake-effect snow early in the year. This can be annoying and plentiful, and this snow is the result of the lake not yet being frozen and adding more moisture to the air.
However, during Buffalo’s Blizzard of ’77, the lake had frozen. And that was even worse because it helped the snowdrifts blow across areas where shoveling and plowing could be undone in a matter of minutes with the right (or wrong) gust of wind.
Prior to the first day of the blizzard, it had snowed just about every day since Christmas, so Mother Nature had a lot of ammo to work with. Buffalo had 33-59 inches of snow (depending on where you were) already on the ground before the blizzard even began. That made the snow even harder to move because it was densely packed. Construction equipment wasn’t enough to move some of it. There was no place to put the snow after a few hours.
The Blizzard was a regional event and not the worst blizzard
The Blizzard of 77 in Buffalo was one of the first to be broadcast around the world. This made it memorable to people well outside the region. And other regions got walloped as well.
The Blizzard of 78 was actually worse in some ways. 100 fatalities were recorded, and that nor’easter spread out farther. It affected New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. Plenty of people felt it in the Midwest as well!).
Part of what made the Blizzard of 77 so memorable is the help that came from around the country in its aftermath. The National Guard set up a post in the city of Buffalo. Equipment came from as far as Colorado to help with the clean-up.
Only around 12 inches of new snow fell during the blizzard itself. But the winds of nearly 70 mph were enough to maim and kill. So were the Arctic temperatures (the wind chill made it feel like −60 °F).
Extreme weather is a fact of life, but some events stand out in people’s memories more than others. The Blizzard of 77 is one of them. — WTF fun facts