JAMESTOWN – For those old enough to remember it, the Blizzard of 77 was a once in a lifetime event filled with massive drifts, zero viability and raw winds. The blizzard started 42 years ago today.
Historic cold and extreme conditions created the perfect conditions for the massive blizzard.
Chautauqua County Executive George Borrrello remembers the storm as a child. He said he remembers the way the local communities came together to help each other.
“The best part about it, I would have to say, is the way people came together. You hear stories of people driving snowmobiles to pick up medicine,” he said.
“I was 10 years old at the time. I know in Chautauqua County it was not as bad as it was in Buffalo. But I do remember at the time we had just moved into a new house on Main Street in Fredonia. I remember there being such large amounts of snow and people driving snowmobiles down the middle of the street, school being closed for several days and it was quite an unprecedented event for me at that young age.”
David Zaff, Science and Operations Officer with the National Weather Service in Buffalo, told WNYNewsNow, that the storm in 1977 was created, in part by Lake Erie freezing over, relatively dry snow in the months before the storm and sustained high wind gusts.
He said pre-storm events included sever cold and heavy snow totals in the Great Lakes Region, oil shortages in the Ohio region and fruit frozen on the trees in Florida.
The blizzard hit Western New York from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1. Peak wind gusts ranged from 46 to 69 mph were recorded by the National Weather Service in Buffalo, with snowfall as high as 100 inches recorded in some areas.
The torrid winds caused drifts of 30 to 40 feet. There were 23 total storm-related deaths in western New York, with five more in northern New York.
Certain pre-existing conditions set the stage for the storm. November, December and January average temperatures were much below normal. Lake Erie froze over by Dec. 14, 1976. When Lake Erie freezes over lake-effect snow does not occur because the wind cannot pick up moisture from the lake’s surface, convert the moisture to snow and then dump it when the winds reach shore.
Lake Erie was covered by deep, powdery snow. January’s cold conditions limited the usual thawing and refreezing, so the snow on the frozen lake remained powdery. The drifted snow on roadways was difficult to clear because the strong wind packed the snow solidly. The roads became impassable and drivers had vehicles inoperable because of very low temperatures and severe wind and blowing snow.
Weather conditions prior to the blizzard created the blizzard’s severe impact. The circulation helped cause record cold for the winter over many portions of the eastern United States, with the Ohio Valley averaging more than 8 degrees.
Conditions included early snowfall. The first trace of snow of the winter at the Buffalo NWS weather station in Cheektowaga occurred Oct. 9, while the first accumulating snow was Oct. 21.
November’s air temperature in Buffalo was the coldest since 1880, with an average temperature of 34.1. November’s average temperature was about 11 degrees below normal.
December was cold and snowy, with an average temperature of 22.0 degrees. December’s average temperature was also about 11 degrees below normal.
The wintry weather continued in January, with the monthly average temperature being 13.8 degrees, the coldest on record since 1870. January’s average temperature was 10 degrees below normal. Temperatures never climbed to freezing in Buffalo that month.
Prior to the blizzard, the Niagara Mohawk Power Company (National Grid) warned that snow was reaching the power lines in some areas of western New York. On Jan. 27, natural gas shortages forced industries and schools to close.
President Carter declared the counties of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming a major disaster area. It was the first time a snowstorm was declared a federal disaster area.