Niagara Gazette

Local News

January 28, 2007

BLIZZARD '77: Remembering the storm of the century

Around the Buffalo-Niagara area it’s still often called the “storm of the century.”

People who lived through it refer to the three or four days it lasted but the story was actually shaped early in the winter of 1976-77.

Aside from the extreme cold, snowfall that November totaled 31.3 inches; in December, 60.7 inches. Through Jan. 27, 59.1 inches.

According to the National Weather Service, on Jan. 27, low pressure crossed Lake Erie and moved to James Bay in Canada. During the next five days, the huge storm system became stalled east of James Bay and then actually moved back west over James Bay before finally moving into the Canadian Maritimes.

The storm started here on Friday, Jan. 28, 1977, as snow began falling at 5 a.m. As the winds gained new strength from the south ahead of a strong cold front, about two inches of fresh powder had accumulated on top of the 33-inch snowpack and drifts from previous storms dating back before Christmas.

Tom Niziol, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Buffalo, noted that as the cold front passed through the Buffalo-Niagara area, the visibility dropped from 3/4-mile to zero and the wind shifted and increased to southwest at 29 mph with gusts to 49 mph. The temperature fell 26 degrees to zero in just over four hours.

Countless residents have sharp recollections of exactly where they were that first day, when the storm crippled the eight Western New York counties.

Thousands ended up trapped in factories, fire hall, school and office buildings. Those traveling were forced to suddenly stop driving and look for refuge.

Some weren’t so lucky; several persons died in their vehicles, buried by the elements and not discovered for days. Others froze in homes that lacked proper heat. A few simply fell into snow drifts and died before they could be helped. In metropolitan Buffalo, the death toll reached 29 during the four-day ordeal.

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