It's the first week of November again and the Buffalo area forecast
is for a week of continued "lake effect" snow off Lake
Erie and temperatures hovering at freezing throughout. Hopefully
conditions won't match the record-breaker a few years ago when the
official snowfall for November was more than 100 inches.
The region is still trying to recover from a surprise heavy wet
snowfall of October 2006 that snapped off thousands of tree branches
still laden with autumn leaves. The unusually heavy weight of the
falling branches severed regional utility wires, knocked out communications
and power and required emergency crews from several states to restore
a semblance of order. The tree problem, however, remains a continuing
The wooden waste was so enormous and widespread that disposal crews
are still trying to collect the detritus a year later. Local newspapers
report regularly on progress of the cleanup. During a summertime
visit after the emergency, I was shocked at the size of piles of
wrecked trees in the backyard of relatives. Other mounds were stashed
alongside roadsides for collection, slow in materializing due to
the enormity of the damage.
The usual early advent of the white coating in the area calls to
mind years of wintertime pleasure and frustration during my Western
New York residence before departing due to decisions involving a
career elsewhere, and after retirement to scamper away permanently
from any more Empire State winters.
I bundled up as a child and gladly took part in snowy escapades
when it didn't seem the inconvenience it later became as an adult.
We fashioned paths through the snow as runways and established a
refuge to escape the chasing "fox." I recall as a tot
youthful relatives shoveling snow into a pile that towered above
me. They poured water to freeze its banked surface to ensure a swift
"slide" with a sled or your backside.
It was a lark to get a running start and belly flop to a sled and
speed along an icy track or down a railroad bank or hill. Sometimes
I would go off by myself sledding for hours, whether in a blizzard
or when a bright moon decorated the soft curves of hillside snow
into a delicate and beautiful fairyland.
We wore winter boots or galoshes to run and slide on ice or packed
snow in our schoolyard and sidewalks. Not unlike today, it was also
exciting for kids to roll huge balls and fabricate rotund snowmen
with coal for eyes and a carrot or stick for a nose.
As kids, we dug out tunnels and the closest we got to war was building
forts and fighting with snowballs. Pelting such missiles was virtually
an every-day occurrence while walking back and forth to school.
One day I felt terribly guilty after I threw a snowball at a boy
delivering newspapers and it struck him in the eye, causing him
to burst into tears. After that I tried to splatter white marks
on tree trunks and utility poles rather than moving targets like
humans and trucks. It was rather an incessant activity since I felt
it built up my arm muscles and improved my control for baseball
The snow in our neighborhood was deep enough that we could climb
atop a railroad bridge and leap into the soft mattress of the heaps
below without injury. We couldn't afford regular skis. So I strapped
on barrel staves to challenge a hill that was designed to challenge
participants in another sport at a nearby golf club. It suited us
for winter endeavors but it was slow going with my cumbersome footwear.
Other kids with regular skis sped readily past me. It was always
hard work trudging back up the slippery, cold hill for another run.
And then you faced the long walk home afterwards in the cold with
wet garments when you were already tuckered out.
Ice skating rinks weren't available in town then but autumn rains
conveniently converted to frozen ponds skirting the railroad tracks
nearby. So we would head over on weekends and after school and play
hockey with sticks and practice spinning, braking suddenly with
a cloud of ice shards and skating backwards like the pro players
in Buffalo games, honing skills to display before girls later on.
During teen-age dates, I had a great time installing skates for
the girl friend I eventually married so we could cruise along arm
in arm, in a way struggling to prop each other up. It didn't always
succeed, she had weak ankles. Warming up with chocolate afterwards
before escorting her home in the cold winter air and fresh snowflakes
lent a special touch to such romantic outdoor evenings.
Even in the coldest weather, when our family had no transport available,
we kids would trek every week or so to a movie theatre a mile or
so away. It was miserable to brave the night-time blasts of wind
and snow after basking in the warmth of the theatre. But sure enough,
we would be eager to check out the movies at the next opportunity
despite the wind-whipped blizzards and occasionally difficult walking.
After all, in those days you viewed two features, a cartoon and
a world news report for a dime or so. And it was a good chance for
my folks to farm out the kids to the flicks and get a few hours
When we did occasionally have a car available, it was necessary
for male family members to expend hours of hard labor to shovel
out the driveway to our street several hundred feet away to also
allow access for milk, bread and fuel delivery vehicles. Even when
a car wasn't involved, a single path was needed to access mail and
to walk to schools, work and grocery stores. Oftentimes another
storm would fill it in and the snow shovels would churn again.
Fierce winds and snowfall off Lake Erie could cause mammoth drifting
in just a few hours. One winter about midnight a few flurries were
descending as I guided my car toward home after winding up a shift
as a radio newscaster in a downtown Buffalo hotel. My destination
was only about ten miles away over ordinarily fine roads. But the
intensity of the storm and the driving worsened. I had scarcely
turned into my street, when the car bogged down in about three feet
of snowfall plus drifts. I had to abandon it until the next day
when town plows bailed me out.
Thankfully I had moved away but later viewed photos in the aftermath
of storms in the Buffalo area that banked snow up to the eaves and
roofs of houses. Residents had to dig tunnels to reach streets and
in some cases the weight caused roofs to collapse.
A worst-case scenario was related to me by a volunteer fireman.
Responding to emergency 911 calls, the firemen and police had to
drive rescue vehicles over the buried autos, discernible only by
antennas rising above the white surfaces.
One of my Buffalo area relatives scoffs at the TV network reports
of another inclement snow emergency in the area and growls, "They
always make it worse than it really is." But I notice that
he and his wife scoot for Florida for a week or so every chance
they get when the snow flies in off Lake Erie under conditions so
unlike those we experience in Delaware with its much more moderate