These factors combined to make the deadly holiday blizzard in New York a catastrophe
BUFFALO, NY – It was a blizzard that halted responses from emergency services and forced drivers to seek shelter in shops, but despite all the warnings of the approaching storm, more than three dozen people were killed and many more were excluded from traffic checks. what is labeled. a “once in a generation” storm.
To the surprise of many, it wasn’t Atlanta or Houston or even Charlotte that made headlines for being unprepared for a winter storm, but rather one city in the Northeast’s Snow Belt – Buffalo, New York.
The metro region averages about 95 inches of snow each year, but experts believe the ingredients for a catastrophic storm are in line with several winter storms. The impacts were too great for even the most prepared communities to handle.
Light snowfall began a few days before the main event, which began on December 23 and lasted until Christmas Eve. During the heart of the storm, winds reached hurricane force and snow piled up in feet, not inches.
Unlike the November 2022 event that dropped more than 80 centimeters of snow in parts of the metro, the temperatures, storm extent and duration of impacts all exceeded recent events, and many compared the system to the 1977 storm.
“I’ve worked at the National Weather Service office in Buffalo for over 30 years, and that’s probably right where the blizzard of ’77, the worst blizzard I’ve ever seen there in a winter,” said the weather specialist’s winter storm specialist. FOX, Tom Niziol. .
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Many residents were out and about on the Friday before Christmas, preparing for the holiday weekend amid power outages, zero visibility and the threat of hyperthermia.
County and city leaders held news conferences warning of impending disaster, but the hustle and bustle coincided with the start of a storm that lasted 37 hours and sent wind chills to more than 20 degrees below zero.
During the multi-day event, videos emerged from western New York of vehicles abandoned on the streets and people sheltering in stores.
More than two dozen people spent part of their Christmas holiday at a Target store while they waited for visibility to improve and damaging wind gusts to relax.
“It’s that combination of influences that produces a disaster,” Niziol said. “Big snow and strong winds moving it, to get slides 10, 12 and 14 meters high. Arctic temperatures – you get stuck in your car and now those temperatures and wind chills (are) below zero. You you can’t see out of the car. What do you do? You panic. You try to get somewhere for help. You get stuck in a snow bank. The winds hit you. And here some people had died. The last feature here is the heavily populated area . It happened in an urban environment, and here it all comes together to produce what I call a weather catastrophe.”
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On top of Mother Nature’s factors, some leaders in the Empire State questioned the local response to the disaster.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has been at the forefront of the messaging and said it’s likely more local governments, including the city of Buffalo, could have done in preparing for the storm.
“Storm, after storm, after storm, after storm, the city, unfortunately, is the last one open and it shouldn’t be like that,” Poloncarz said during a press conference Wednesday. “It’s embarrassing to tell you the truth.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said there was little more than could have been done, given the historic nature of the winter outbreak.
“People have been working around the clock since this storm started,” Brown said. “Some people handle that pressure very differently. Some continue to work. Some continue to try to help the residents of our community, and some break down and lash out.”
If the climatology works out, Buffalo is likely yet to experience the last snow event of the winter weather season, even though the region has already seen accumulations of 6 inches above what a typical year produces. New York’s second-largest city has already seen more than 40 inches of snow, with wintry precipitation likely at least through April.