Snow Goes Jumbo in Buffalo




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 story.

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 pitching.

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 of reprieve.

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 climate.