Buffalo blizzard rivals historic 1977 snowstorm, officials say

A terrible blizzard in 1977 killed nearly 30 people and paralyzed the Buffalo area for days. It is easily one of the worst storms in the city’s history.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Christmas week storm that brought nasty weather and bitter cold to the eastern U.S. has also created a paralyzing blizzard in western New York that some officials say rivals one of the region's worst snowstorms in history.

Lake-effect snow started falling Friday in the Buffalo area on the shores of Lake Erie and continued through Christmas Day. Snowfall rates of 3 inches an hour combined with howling winds created whiteout conditions at times. At least 2 feet of snow fell at the Buffalo Airport, while at least 6 feet fell in the Buffalo suburbs of Orchard Park and Hamburg.

Officials in Erie County said people became stranded in their vehicles, and emergency personnel had been unable to reach some of them because of the storm's severity. Travel was banned across the region, power was knocked out to thousands of customers and New York’s governor declared a disaster.

At least 27 deaths in western New York had been attributed to the winter storm, according to officials.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz compared this storm to another that devastated the region 45 years ago.

"This is horrible," Poloncarz said at a news conference Sunday. "This is a major disaster that in some ways may turn out to be worse than the Blizzard of ’77 was."


The 1977 blizzard lasted for four days – from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1. It differed slightly from this week’s storm in that much less snow fell, but what did fall was compounded by snow already on the ground before the storm and a frozen Lake Erie.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Buffalo, about 12 inches of snow fell at the Buffalo Airport during the storm. However, most of that snow is believed to have been blown into the lakeside city from the snow that had accumulated on the frozen surface of Lake Erie. That was on top of the more than 30-inch snowpack in place before the storm.


Homes in the eastern suburbs of Buffalo, particularly in Lancaster, were buried to the roof in some cases, according to the NWS.

Wind gusts as high as 75 mph were recorded in nearby Niagara Falls, which exacerbated the arctic temperatures of negative 1 degree and dropped wind chill readings to about 60 degrees below zero.

According to the NWS, nearly 30 people died during the storm. Many of them were found frozen in their half-buried vehicles.


Both the National Guard and Army were called in to help dig out Buffalo.

President Jimmy Carter declared a federal disaster for nine counties in the region. According to the NWS, that was the first time a federal disaster had been declared for a snowstorm in the U.S.