Sunday, January 28, 2007

Where were you when the blizzard hit?

Thirty years ago today...January 28th, 1977...was the first day of the Great Lakes Blizzard of 1977. If you never realized just how significant that snowstorm was--well, it has its own page on Wikipedia, so there you go.

Now people associate this storm with Buffalo. We didn't live in Buffalo, we lived in the same part of southern Ontario we do now. But you need to understand the connection we had with Buffalo, because of TV and particularly because of Channel 7 WKBW, the home of Eyewitness News, Commander Tom, Rocketship 7 (the show that featured Gumby and Davey and Goliath), and all the other cool American shows that we saw thanks to the marvel of cable TV. We were about as familiar with the goings-on in Buffalo as we were with things at home: weekly deals at Bell supermarkets, Muscular Dystrophy Carnivals, how the hockey team was doing, what was on fire...and later on, constant reminders to "remember the hostages in Iran." (I never hear the Sabre Dance without thinking of hockey.)

Anyway...on January 28th, the storm hit, and it lasted until February 1st. Think of the beginning of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". Think of The Long Winter and Snowbound with Betsy. It was That Kind of a Storm. I know winters were worse back then, but this was the one we remembered. According to Wikipedia,
In the hardest struck areas snowmobiles became the only viable method of transportation. In Western New York and Southern Ontario, snow built up on frozen Lake Erie and the snow cover on the ground over land at the start of the blizzard provided ample material for the high winds to blow around into huge drifts. The combination of bitter cold, high winds, and blowing snow paralyzed the areas most strongly affected by the storm. Lake Ontario was not frozen, which meant that Northern New York did not have to deal with previously accumulated snow blowing off the lake’s surface. This did allow for considerable lake effect snow to occur, that when coupled with the existing snow cover and wind also created paralysis.
Here's another interesting page that says, "By the night of Friday, January 28, 1977, thousands of people were stranded in office buildings, schools, police stations, fire halls, bars, factories, cars, houses and in the homes of strangers. Most highways were impassable, train lines were blocked and airports were closed."

Mr. Fixit's dad was coming home from work that afternoon and ended up leaving his car several blocks away because the streets were so filled with snow abandoned cars that he couldn't get through. He was also only wearing a light overcoat! He couldn't find their house but managed to get to the neighbour's and stayed there until he could make it home--next door. [Update: that's Mr. Fixit's account. Grandpa Squirrel says that he did get to his house, banged on the door and rang the doorbell--but the power was out, everybody was in the basement keeping warm around the fireplace, and nobody could hear him to let him in!] A few miles to the south, Mama Squirrel was just happy to be let out of school early for the day, and she remembers her own dad bringing somebody who got stranded at work to spend the night.

And it just kept snowing! This page details some of the serious and sad results of the storm, as well as this "disaster": "Four Buffalo Braves professional basketball games were postponed as well as two Buffalo Sabres hockey games." Tragedy indeed.

As a tribute to Eyewitness News and the Storm of 1977, here's a very short audio clip of Irv Weinstein saying that Buffalo has been declared a disaster area. (Unfortunately, I can't link to more than the site; but a search on that page for Blizzard will get you to the right place.)

What were you doing in January 1977?


JoeBlogs said...

I wasn't born. cute squirrel pics.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Mama Squirrel,

I lived in northern Illinois--although we did not have exactly your conditions, the winter of 1976 -1977 was one of the worst of my childhood. We had storm after storm from November through February. We also had a blizzard from January 27 - 29 that year. It was the second to last of that winter. We were without electricity for two days and slept in the living room (nearer to the gas oven in the kitchen--thank goodness it was hand lightable!).

Mama Squirrel said...

I found it kind of funny that this weekend's Toronto paper had a major article about global warming...

Karen G. said...

I was 10 years old and in 5th grade. I lived in Western PA, far enough south not to get lake effect snow, but we still had a good amount and school was cancelled. I remember huge drifted and snow-ploughed piles of snow that could be tunneled into, the like of which I have never seen since.

When we couldn't be outside, we "played" with the neighbor girl by talking and tapping on the paper-thin walls between our project apartments, and my sister and I invented 5,000 Rummy, and then 10,000 Rummy, and played for hours and hours.

Anonymous said...

A little late in reading this, but thanks for the memories. I lived in Erie, PA then, was in 8th grade, and was happy to be out of school for two weeks. And happy that I wasn't in high school yet, because they had to go in to pick up homework.

Anonymous said...

I was a freshman at Niagara University. When they ran out of toilet paper after a few days, three of us (dumb) girls started walking home, which was Rochester, NY. We heard the firehouses along Rt 31 were serving food and we hoped they had toilet paper. Young people are so irrational!

We hitch-hiked getting short rides along the way. When we got to Medina, we were stranded and spent the night with someone who picked us up. was a man who told us he had been separated from his family for days and they were all able to get to their Medina country home that night. Luckily, he turned out to be a truth-telling nice guy instead of a murderer!

We three girls were given a can of pork 'n beans to more or less than the rest of the family. But they DID have toilet paper.

We stayed 24 hours until the Greyhound station opened. Mr nice-guy drove us to the station and we bussed the rest of the way home. None of us 'fessed up to our moms until decades later!

Yes....that was a memory...and a story I will not tell my children until they are all grown up and level-headed!

Anonymous said...

I don't personally remember this blizzard, but I'm reminded of it every year by my parents. I grew up in Warren County, PA, just across the state line from Jamestown NY and decided to grace the world the night of January 28. My parents barely made it to the hospital that night due to the blizzard conditions and said they never saw a single car on the road the whole way there. My mom had to spend the whole week in the hospital with just me as it was too dangerous out to send her and I home and only my dad ventured out to the hospital to come visit us. It's neat seeing all those pictures to give an understanding of what it was like the week I was born!

Anonymous said...

Holy cow!! How can that be 31 yrs ago??
I was turning 10 that spring! We lived somewhere in Ridgeway Ontario in the "boondocks" on several acres of land. We had to take in a gentleman and his son. What a terrific experience. I can only hope this next generation knows such community adhesiveness.

Raz said...

I was in Rochester at RIT, there were classes but limited. Huge snow drifts and few people made it to class.