|The story of the Blizzard of '77 actually began early
in the winter of 1976_1977. The weather was unusually harsh leading up
to the blizzard. The average temperature for both November and December
was about six degrees below normal. January averaged ten degrees
below normal. Severe gas shortages were already underway.
Industries and schools were forced to curtail activities and in some
In addition to the extreme cold, snowfall in November totalled 31.3 inches, in December 60.7 inches and through the 27th of January 59.1 inches. There was a persistent snow cover from November 29th...unusual for a Western New York winter. The national guard had already been called to the region to help clear the snow-clogged city streets.
On the 27th of January, low pressure crossed Lake Erie and moved to James Bay in Canada. During the 5 days that followed, this huge storm system became stalled east of James Bay then actually moved back west over James Bay before finally moving east to the Canadian Maritimes.
The storm began on the 28th of January as snow started falling at 5am. As winds freshened from the south ahead of a strong cold front, about two inches of new powder had accumulated on top of the 33 inch snowpack and drifts from previous storms dating back before Christmas! During the morning, the temperature rose rapidly from five degrees at midnight to 26 degrees at 11 am.
At 1135am however, the storm hit with a ferocity that many in this snow-savvy city had never before seen. As the cold front passed through Buffalo, the visibility dropped from 3/4 Mile to zero and the wind shifted and increased to southwest at 29 mph with gusts to 49 mph. The temperature fell 26 degrees to zero in just over four hours!
The blizzard reached its worst severity during the late afternoon as winds at the Buffalo airport averaged 46 mph and gusted to 69 mph. Gusts of 75 mph were recorded at the Niagara Falls airport, about 20 miles north of Buffalo. Wind chills reached 50 to 60 degrees below zero. Thousands were stranded in office buildings, schools, police stations, fire halls, and factories. Cars were stalled everywhere and roads became impassable.
When a fire broke out on Whitney Place in the heart of the city, fire fighting equipment was initially unable to get through. Six homes were completely destroyed and fifty people were left homeless. Nearly all transportation in and out of Buffalo stopped.
In addition to Erie county, states of emergency were declared in Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties. All roads were closed in Wyoming and Livingston counties as well. Blizzard or near blizzard conditions prevailed on and off for the next three days, ending around midday on February 1st. Daily peak Gusts of 51, 52, 58, and 46 mph were recorded from the 29th through the 1st.
On Saturday the 29th, while blizzard conditions prevailed the Buffalo Courier Express could not publish it's morning paper for the first time in 143 years. The federal government issued a declaration of Emergency which allowed their agencies to come in and provide whatever was needed to restore normalcy to the region. By the 30th, Federal officials had taken over snow removal operations and before the end of the storm over 500 national guardsmen were helping in the disaster. Offers for aid and relief came from as far away as mainland Europe as the news spread worldwide.
It was estimated that snow removal costs alone exceeded 20 million dollars. Snowmobilers and those with four wheel drive became invaluable as they delivered emergency food and medical supplies. Sadly, 29 deaths Were blamed on the storm, many found frozen in their half buried cars during the four day ordeal. In addition, looting of businesses and stranded cars also took place beginning on the 29th with nearly one hundred arrested.
When the sun finally came out for good on the 1st of February, its cold light revealed a scene of incredible desolation in Buffalo and over the seven western county area. The city as well as most other communities banned traffic for several days. The army was called in from Fort Bragg, NC to augment the national guardsmen. Some of the eastern suburbs of Buffalo, particularly Lancaster, were buried to the roofs of homes in some cases.
The storms toll was felt by all. Factories and industries were closed for over a week. Retailers reported millions in lost sales as stores remained closed. At the Buffalo Zoo, over 20 animals perished in the storm and damage was estimated at nearly a half a million dollars.
Four Buffalo Braves professional basketball games were postponed as well as two Buffalo Sabres hockey games. Mail delivery was suspended for nearly a week also. President Carter declared seven western counties federal disaster areas, the first time ever for a snowstorm in the United States.
Ironically, the snow at Buffalo totalled only about 12 inches from January 28th to February 1st. However, most of the snow was believed to be from existing snow lying on the frozen surface of Lake Erie that was blown across Buffalo and the surrounding areas and redeposited.
Buffalo was not the only area in the Eastern Great Lakes Region to feel the brunt of this epic storm. Immediately to the west, across the Niagara Peninsula in southern Ontario, Canada, conditions were just as bad. Well to the east of Buffalo across the northern New York counties of Lewis and Jefferson, which includes the city of Watertown the tremendous winds were accompanied by very heavy lake effect snows.