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Sunday, 27
Genealogy & Local History in Buffalo, NY

  The Truth About Snow in Buffalo logo
Sign the petition for
municipal sidewalk
plowing in Buffalo, which was inspired by this letter to the editor.

See for yourself: no leaves on the trees, no snow on the ground.  These pictures are courtesy of the Winterless Buffalo Flickr group.  All are date-stamped November to March.

Some Top Ten US Weather Facts

10 Snowiest Cities
  1. Blue Canyon, CA
  2. Marquette, MI
  3. Sault Ste. Marie, MI
  4. Syracuse, NY
  5. Caribou, ME
  6. Mount Shasta, CA
  7. Lander, WY
  8. Flagstaff, AZ
  9. Sexton Summit, OR
  10. Muskegon, MI
10 Coldest Cities
  1. International Falls, MN
  2. Duluth, MN
  3. Caribou, ME
  4. Marquette, MI
  5. Sault Ste. Marie, MI
  6. Fargo, ND
  7. Williston, ND
  8. Alamosa, CO
  9. Bismarck, ND
  10. St. Cloud, MN
10 Windiest Cities
  1. Blue Hill, MA
  2. Dodge City, KS
  3. Amarillo, TX
  4. Rochester, MN
  5. Casper, WY [and]
  6. Cheyenne, WY [tie]
  7. Great Falls, MT
  8. Goodland, KS
  9. Boston, MA
  10. Lubbock, MA
Source: Williams, Jack, The USA Today Weather Almanac. New York: Vintage Books, 1994, p. 125.  Jack says more about Buffalo and snow here.

What supposedly Siberian city is entirely absent from these lists? Did anyone notice that the only place in New York (Syracuse) to make a Top Ten is 150 miles east of Buffalo? Rochester and Syracuse routinely receive more snow than Buffalo.

Here is another Top Ten list that omits Buffalo: America's Worst Winter Weather Cities by Forbes magazine (Feb. 5, 2010).

And even more statistics!

Okay, Listen Up, Class

snowiest cities list
*Cities of more than 100,000

Source: Specht, Charlie and Warner, Gene. "Buffalo's Image Sticks Like Wet Snow."  Buffalo News, January 12, 2011, p. A-1.

Note to  Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia: Welcome to the new normal.

Sure, Buffalo used to get a lake-effect blizzard every year, but winters in the new century have failed to live up to reputation. Buffalo's annual winter festival has been postponed more than once due to lack of snow.

Yes, we had a truly spectacular storm in 1977, even if it wasn't fierce enough to make the Top Ten Storms of the Century. The famous Blizzard of 1977 didn't begin in Buffalo and end at the city line, it hammered the northeastern US and southeastern Ontario, Canada.

Here's the big secret: blizzards are fun. We go home and relax. We shovel each other out. We make cookies and hot cocoa. Heavy snow is the only weather extreme that is so benign it can be used for recreation. I refer, of course, to skiing, ice skating, hockey, and snow sculpture.

But, hey, if these aren't your cup of tea, then by all means kick back, pop open your beverage of choice, and enjoy your tidal waves, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires, heat waves, volcanic eruptions, droughts, and plagues of locusts. Buffalo is blessedly safe from these disasters.  Snowstorms don't destroy cities.  Thousands of us live in fabulous Victorian houses that have survived over a hundred Buffalo winters and will survive another hundred.

Well, okay, you're thinking, blizzards still tie up a city, don't they?  Sometimes, but they didn't used to. I am indebted to the late George Kunz for the following insight. In his posthumously published Buffalo Memories (2002), Kunz wrote about the heavy-duty trolley plows used to clear streetcar routes in the winter:
"I do not remember any protracted urban paralysis following those storms of half a century ago. The reason lies partially in the fact that transit ridership was high, and streets were free of disabled cars. [Trolley] plows were unhampered.  Today most workers rely on motor cars for commuting to jobs. Many live outside the reach of mass transit in the country or in the suburbs. Many others shun public transit, seized by a jejune reliance on the personal car.  Given these facts, modern storm paralysis is understandable. Workers drive cars, cars get stuck and are abandoned, snow plows cannot get through to do their job. Result: traffic bans, closing of businesses and ultimately loss of future commercial contracts. The city bleeds." (p.52)

This is entirely logical. If you have to keep only two dozen streetcar routes clear, your chances of success are much greater than if you have to clear 800 miles of streets (in the City of Buffalo alone).  In other words, snowstorms don't necessarily paralyze cities, but automobile dependency certainly does.  Metro Rail, our light-rail line, works fine in all weather. Service has been curtailed or canceled due to snow only three times since Metro Rail opened in 1985.

Consider New Orleans, which recently had a memorable flood. Buffalo has something in common with New Orleans, in that we do not spend all year under six feet of drifts any more than the Big Easy spends all year under six feet of water. Thus it is that the atypical event stands out, attracting widespread attention, thereby obscuring the fact that it is not typical. There must be a word for this well-understood media distortion effect.

In 1901, before the advent of Polarfleece, down parkas, water-proof footwear, thermal underwear, heated vehicles with snow tires, mechanized snow plows, home insulation, weather sealing, snowblowers, and radar weather prediction, this writer declared our climate "delightful."  
"The climate of Buffalo, with the exception of high winds during certain portions of the winter, is probably as delightful as that enjoyed by any city on the globe. In summer, the temperature is nearly always moderate, and when other cities suffer from extreme heat, the people of Buffalo are blessed with the conditions common to late summer in other regions."

Source: Rowland B. Mahaney, in: Historic Towns of the Middle States. New York: Knickerbocker Press,1901, p. 387.  [Emphasis added.]

Or how about this quote from 1868?

"The climate of Buffalo is, without doubt, of a more even temperature than any other city in the same parallel of latitude from the Mississippi to the Atlantic coast. Observations have shown that the thermometer never ranges as low in winter, nor as high in summer, as at points in Massachusetts, the eastern and central portions of this State, the northern and southern shores of Lake Erie in Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Wisconsin. The winters are not as keen, nor the summers, cooled by the breezes from the lake, as sultry; and in a sanitary point of view, it is probably one of the healthiest cities in the world."

Source:  Disturnell, John, comp.  The Great Lakes, or, Inland seas of America.  New York: American News Company, 1868, p. 47

The more that modern conveniences transform winter from a mortal threat to a seasonal annoyance, the more insulted we get, as though winter should have be wiped out like smallpox. As winter gets more tolerable, we become more intolerant.

The Scandinavians have a saying: There is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing.

The Real Story: The Best Summers in the Northeast

Thanks to Dr. Stephen Vermette and this article from the Buffalo News, it isn't clear which measurements of our sunshine are valid.  So I am leaving up the numbers below until someone publishes better ones.

Percent of Sunshine
June through August

  1. Buffalo: 67
  2. Boston: 65
  3. New York City: 64
  4. Baltimore: 63
  5. Washington, DC: 63
  6. Philadelphia: 62
  7. Albany: 61
  8. Pittsburgh: 58
Average Rainfall, Inches
June through August

  1. Buffalo: 8.69
  2. Albany: 8.99
  3. Boston: 9.39
  4. Pittsburgh: 10.47
  5. New York City, 10.65
  6. Philadelphia: 11.90
  7. Baltimore: 12.05
  8. Washington, DC: 12.27
Average Temperature
July afternoon

  1. Buffalo: 80F
  2. Boston: 81F
  3. Pittsburgh: 83F
  4. Albany: 84F
  5. New York City: 85F
  6. Philadelphia: 87F
  7. Baltimore: 87F
  8. Washington, DC: 88F
Source: Vogel, Mike. "Buffalo is Sunshine Capital of Northeast," Buffalo News, May 18, 1989, p. A-l, based on figures from the National Weather Service

The Bottom Line

Buffalo has more days per year in which the temperature is above 60F than days with snow on the ground. Now, will smug out-of-towners please aim your climatological condescension at more appropriate targets?

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