The sun was shining brightly. It reflected brilliantly off the snowy white blanket that smothered the streets and houses of Buffalo and Western New York. The snow had come quickly on Sunday, in a frozen rainfall of slushy precipitation. The entire nation watched in awe as the Buffalo Bills played Indianapolis in a blizzard of driving snow. The players frolicked in the snow piles, like small children enjoying their first snowfall.
" Lake Effect Snow" is the meteorological term for the phenomenon. Cold winds, rushing over the warmer Lake Erie surface, soak up huge quantities of moisture. As the water –laden clouds rise over land, the moisture falls in great sheets of frozen snow. It functions like a giant snow making machine at a ski resort. If you have ever seen these cannon-like snow guns, you have an appreciation for the volume of precipitation that these storms can generate. One of the last major events dumped 42 inches over greater Buffalo in a two-day period. That is a lot of snow! Lake Erie is pointed, like a huge winter artillery piece, at Buffalo and Western New York. The snowfall occurs, under Arctic conditions, whenever the Lake Ice has not yet frozen over.
The event comes quickly, with little warning. If the wind direction is steady, the narrow band of snow will be well delineated. You can literally watch a white curtain of snow falling, down the road, when all about you is clear. The TV stations regularly post " snow squall warnings" and scare most people to death. The radio drones on, like the prayers for the dead, a list of school and event closings. The lists grow with the storm's magnitude. In your mind’s eye, you can almost visualize the track of its path, as you listen. The schools wink out in a linear, contiguous geographical array. Huge quantities of milk, bread and staples disappear from store shelves, as if by magic. Mentally, we batten down the hatches and prepare to weather the storm.
These narrow bands of snow are wind driven. They oscillate from southwest, to west, and then finally northwest, with the prevailing winds. The direction is channeled by the windmill effect, of a counter clockwise low front, as it sweeps across the Great Lakes. It functions like a huge garden hose. Then, to add insult to injury, the process can reverse itself, as the front passes through and the wind shifts. Sometimes, an unfortunate community has just dug itself out, when it is buried yet again. It develops a stoic patience within us, a stolid resignation and acceptance of the inevitable.
Afterwards, the clean up begins. Great fleets, of heavy winged snowplows, clear the accumulations from the streets and highways. Tons of road salt peppers the streets. The roar of snow blowers, like the buzz of angry bees, can be heard throughout the neighborhoods. Snow shovels, manned by brightly clad residents, furiously nibble away at the clogged sidewalks and driveways. When you finish, of course, the plows will thunder by and fill your drive way with snow, once again, at no extra charge. You need a sense of humor during winter in Western New York.
When we were children, the heavy snows came with great regularity. Then sometimes, scores of neighbors would band together and shovel out the deadend street where we lived. The plows were usually hopelessly behind. It would take them days to reach us. It breeds a kinship among us here, in Western New York. It's a feeling of overcoming shared elemental hardships. Like cleaning up after earthquakes, tornadoes or floods, it generates a fierce pride of self-sufficiency. We are a hardier people here in Western New York. We bend with the wind and persevere.
The children of course are delighted when it snows. Every neighborhood hill becomes an Olympic toboggan run. Great hordes of happy, smile-faced urchins flow down the slopes like sheets of multicolored neon. The skiers too are happy. They imagine long downhill runs through clouds of freshly fallen powder. The resort owners and winter clothing salespeople are mildly delirious as well. Winter is big business here abouts.
We are a people here in Buffalo who live in harmony with the ferocity of nature and prosper because of it.
Joseph Xavier Martin