Archive for November, 2011

The pre-Thanksgiving storm that shut down Buffalo

November 15, 2011
 
 In late November of 2000 the nation’s attention was focused on Florida where the outcome of the Presidential election still hung in the balance but in Buffalo the focus was on the forecast which was calling for our first measurable snow of the season.

Buffalo Historical Society November 19, 2000

When it was all said and done we got around 14″ from Saturday November 18 to Sunday the 19th. 

Keep in mind the previous winter was one of the least snowiest in Buffalo history so this late November storm provided me with the opportunity to grab my camera and see what kind of Courier & Ives type pictures I might be able to capture of the Buffalo landmarks in our neighborhood.

Casino at Hoyt Lake November 19, 2000

The forecast for Monday November 20
was calling for more lake effect snow showers but nothing like we saw over the weekend so people didn’t give it all that much thought.  It was the week of Thanksgiving and I remember being out on a turkey giveaway story with Sam Rogers and Sam Cowart of the Buffalo Bills when the snow started to fall around 11 a.m.  Within no time it was coming down at a clip of around three to four inches an hour.

My wife and I worked the morning show at WKBW-TV so our shift ended at 12:30 p.m., lucky for us because the roads were already becoming impassable.  Road crews were out but the snow was just coming down too fast.  We got to our home on Lafayette Avenue about three miles away and I was luckily able to slide my car into a spot across the street.

View from our Lafayette Avenue apartment

From our second floor apartment we watched in amazement as the snow continued to fall so fast that day turned to night and the street lights were all on by mid-afternoon.  At one point I made an attempt to shovel but found inches behind me as soon as I made a pass.

Me, barely visible, attempting to shovel a path

Because this much snow wasn’t forecast the feeling among most was it wouldn’t last. 

As a result the Buffalo schools didn’t let out early but businesses soon did so that around 2:30 p.m. the already difficult to manage roads were filling quickly with cars and school buses.  The plows couldn’t get to the quickly mounting snow and within no time there was a total shutdown. 

Long story short,  where your car was at 4 p.m. Monday was likely where it was to be found at 4 a.m.  Tuesday.  Around 5 p.m. the thunder snow started with flashes of lightning that reflected off the falling snow.  It was unlike anything I’ve seen before or since.

Around 6:30 p.m. the winds shifted and the lake effect snow finally stopped but not before dumping 25″ in about 7 hours.  The headaches though only were just beginning, the town and all of its roads were shut down.  We lived off Gates Circle by Millard Fillmore Hospital and I remember walking down where I found cars and buses as far as the eye can see.

An ABC World News Tonight story that would air the next day would feature the hospital which ended up taking in seven busloads of school kids as did every fire station, government building, fast food restaurant and just about anyplace able to provide shelter.

Since I get up at 2 in the morning I decided I better go to bed.  I woke around midnight to peek out the window to see if the roads were now clear but the cars stuck in the street were still there.  That’s when it dawned on me the only way I was going to make it to work was to walk the three miles and I better get started.

Next day view looking down Delaware Avenue

I put on my ski gear, threw a change of clothes in a backpack and took off on foot down Delaware Avenue which was bumper to bumper cars, most abandoned, some still occupied with sleeping drivers still others showing Buffalo spirit with impromptu tailgates fueled by whatever alcohol that could be found within walking distance.

On the way in that morning I helped to push about a half-dozen cars and was offered an equal number of beers.  By the end of the walk I was tempted to accept. 

I made to the station and time to change and take the set most of the crew working the show were the same people who worked the night before.  They couldn’t get home and the morning people couldn’t get in.

After a long day at work it dawned on me I didn’t have a car, so I’d have to get home the way I got in, on foot.  So I changed back into my ski gear and off  I went.  As I walked back up Delaware Avenue the tow trucks were slowly making their way to the cars removing them one by one.

When I got home I knew my first task would be to dig out my car but as I rounded the corner I saw the street was clean but my car wasn’t there.  I thought to myself ‘crap they towed it.’  As I got closer I could see what looked like my rearview mirror sticking out of a snow bank, the car was there just totally plowed under.

Being the city of good neighbors a few of mine came out to help and within no time we were able to get it cleared off.

The state of emergency was lifted Wednesday morning which was the day before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year but also one of the busiest days for grocery shopping.

What I found at the supermarket was unlike anything I have seen before or after.  The parking lot was packed and there was not a cart to be had at the local Wegmans between people needing to restock after being holed up for three days and people needing to get what they needed for Thanksgiving.

Rules of etiquette didn’t apply, this was survival of the fittest.

13 months later Buffalo would get hammered with 7-feet of snow in five days but for that we were prepared and the city handled it without a problem that’s why this one storm will, in my mind, be the worst.

This is the ABCNews piece on the storm.