Buffalo Knows Snow

Buffalo’s making world news for something other than its architecture, its culture, its startup entrepreneurs, and its Shark Girl.

This time, it’s the snow.

If you think about it, this is the first major, news-making snowfall to happen in Buffalo since things like Facebook and Twitter became ubiquitous. The October storm was in 2006, and the last time communities around here saw 6 feet or more of snow in just a day from a freak Lake Effect situation was back in December 2001. (There was a similar storm in November 2000 that messed with afternoon rush hour and left thousands stranded in short order).

I live in the Northtowns, and we got nothing – just a dusting of wet, sticky snow on Monday night. All of Tuesday was sunny, but we could see the looming band of lake effect cutting the sky to the south and west. Schools were closed because teachers couldn’t get in, and there weren’t enough subs to go around.

While Clarence saw a mere dusting, the adjoining town just south of us – Lancaster – is one of the hardest-hit communities, seeing over 5 feet of snow.

But what’s different this time as compared to past massive snowstorms is the use of social media. No longer solely reliant on radio or TV updates, people are communicating via Twitter and Facebook. Snow-free Northtown people are in awe of the walls of snow their friends in the eastern suburbs and Southtowns have – these types of pictures even made it to the front page of Reddit. Amazing photographs of the edge of the snow event, taken from the air, have gone viral.

They canceled school again Wednesday and I wanted to go into downtown to grab some work to do from home. I knew the 190 was closed from the 290 to the 90, so as I exited the 990, I opted to take the 290 towards the 33.  I forgot, however, that the Thruway is closed from Rochester to the Pennsylvania line. So, all traffic was forced to exit the 290 at Harlem Road / Sheridan Drive.

I took Harlem south to meet up with the 33. There was no snow at all until I crossed Main Street.  Then, there was a dusting.  The snow progressively intensified as I traveled further south, through the double roundabouts at Kensington, and again at the next light.  By the time I got to the T-Shirt man, it was a whiteout, and I already knew the lake effect band had hit downtown.  I thought I could do a quick grab & dash at the office, but I turned around on Harlem Road, not wanting to end up going 10 miles per hour with my hazards on in a blinding whiteout on the 33.

If you track back to the middle of the last decade, when the effort to change Buffalo’s image from a snowbound post-industrial wasteland picked up steam thanks to blogs and social media, the freak October storm of 2006 is the only thing that made any sort of news. But that storm now pales in comparison to storm events that have crippled many parts of the Northeast in the past few years, so it’s not something that outsiders link with Buffalo’s overall reputation.

We’re hyper-aware of every time Buffalo makes national news, because we’re defensive about how we’re perceived as a gray, cold, failure. No listicles this time, no Forbes survey has us peeved – now we’re in the midst of a proper snowpocalypse just 2 weeks into November, and our lake effect is all over social media and regular news.

It’ll be 60 degrees on Monday, by the way. We were wearing shorts last Tuesday in 70 degree weather.

What, if anything, will be the effect on Buffalo’s reputation? We’re seeing news all over about good samaritans with snowmobiles and snowblowers, further cementing our reputation as the city of “Good Neighbors”. The brunt of the storm hit the affected areas somewhat late in the day Monday, so traffic was not at its peak – we don’t have the mass strandings that we’ve come to expect. So, we get a few snow days, people post incredible – and often humorous – pictures of walls of snow and massive drifts, and we take it all in stride.

In all, epic snowfall like this and the way in which people are finding the light, empathy, and humor in a tough situation should serve to burnish Buffalo’s reputation as a fundamentally livable place, in spite of the snow. After all, the snow might keep you stuck where you are for a time, but it’s generally not, e.g.,  washing or blowing your house away. No epic drought, no fires, no landslides. We’re just, for the most part, sitting tight.

So, sit tight, Buffalo. Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. Keep warm, help each other out, and marvel at what’s going on.

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