A blizzard can be defined as a severe winter storm condition characterized by minimum temperatures, strong winds, and heavy blowing snow. The gale-force blizzard of 1977 also known as ‘The white death’ can be termed as the worst and harshest winter ever recorded in the history of southern Niagara and eastern United States for the first time in 143 years. This occurred during the winter of 1976-1977. Friday, 28th, January of 1977 was characterized by fair weather then later turned out to be one of the most brutal and severely hit winter with no thaw recorded for the very first time. Snow gale was witnessed in South Ontario and passing over the Buffalo airport. Low pressures crossed Lake Erie heading for James Bay then stalling east to the Canadian Maritimes. This blizzard warranted a federal disaster area declaration for Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie, Wyoming, Jefferson, Lewis, Orleans and Gene sees after killing twenty-nine people and causing an estimated damage worth $300 million. At the Buffalo zoo over 20 animals lost their lives due to the biting frost. Some antelopes were seen in the streets as the snow had piled up so high to the extent that the antelopes could freely walk out of the zoo.
In addition to this extreme cold, snowfall in the month of November totaled a 31.3 Inches reading, in December a 60.7 inches reading and through the 27th of January, a 59.1 Inches reading. There was a persistent snow cover from November 29th which was a little unusual for a New York winter. The National Guard had already been called to the region to help clear the snow-clogged city streets. The blizzard of ’77 took a long four days leading to a deep snow (30-35 feet) cover that blanketed the city in snow up to the house tops. Aerial photographs showed a city under snow and only the high building could be observed, though partially. Wind were gushing up to speeds of between 49-69 m/s, picking up drifts piled on lake Erie then depositing them west of New York and southern Ontario. Gusts of 79m/h were also picked up at Niagara Falls airport with wind chills reaching as low as -60 degrees. During this period the average temperature for both November and December of 1976 was ranging at -6 degrees. January of 1977 averaged a low of -10 degrees (Stratton 67).
Friday, January, 28th, 1977 in Niagara temperatures were ranging at a high of -4 degrees and a low of -18 degrees. This to the inhabitants of Niagara was fairer compared to the months that had passed. Activities on this particular day went on as usual, students going for their classes, parents going to work and life went on as usual. Winds reached a peak gust of 111km/h. At midday the storm hit Niagara and it was nothing normal. This marked the very beginning of the famous blizzard of ’77. Saturday, January, 29th, 1977 was characterized by highs of -14degrees and lows of -22degrees (Rossi 87).
Winds had subsided to peak gusts of 82km/h. This weather left most people stranded at school and at their job place. Travelling was inevitable and vision impossible. Sunday, January, 30th, 1977 saw Niagara mark a high of -11 degrees and a low of -17 degrees. Peak wind gusts read a tremendous 84km/h which was a significant increase in relation to the previous day. There was an increased visibility level and so rescue efforts could no longer be adversely affected. The government came in with equipment and reliefs since transport could be established. This was the only opportunity that the people of Niagara had to reunite with their families. Those in schools had the chance to go home and those stuck at their job place could now go home. Wind had subsided and the sun was eminently visible to the people of this northern frontier. People thought this was the end but it was not to be. The storm reemerged later on in the day.
Monday, January, 31st 1977, was termed as the day when the storm returned. The storm had gathered once more on Sunday eve. Temperatures showed a low of -16 degrees and highs of -8degrees, with peak wind gusts of 93km/h marking the returns of the Blizzard, pounding to south Niagara hence suspending all activities in the county (Sylves 54). Tuesday, February, 1st, 1977, was the end of the blizzard and the morning was characterized by a sunny morning with light winds and good visual capability. The winds had dropped so drastically to a speed gust of 15km/h which was a change compared to how it had been for the last two to three months.
The blizzard occurred due to the complete freezing of Lake Erie therefore allowing for the accumulation of snow on the lake. There had previously been a prolonged cold season, a period of snowing weather without any thaw action which allowed the snow pack to ideally accumulate to deep depths. Lack of thaw actions of glacier prevented the snow from the melting/freezing cycles which reduces the threat of snow blowing. During the same time there occurred a push of cold arctic air, also known as the arctic drift, with a very strong storm system over north of Ontario. This initialized blizzard-like conditions off the lake. During this time wind were accompanied by arctic cold temperatures and this made the outside very cold and inhabitable (Bahr 78).
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Visibility dropped drastically from the usual ¾ miles to zero and remaining at zero for about 25 hours of the storm period. Those in vehicles were forced to abandon their vehicles and journeys. This was due to the accumulated amounts of snow depths and the poor visibility caused by the snow blown from Lake Erie. Schools could not release students since the blizzard came so suddenly and busses could not reach students home and neither could parents reach their children at schools. People were trapped is houses and had to put up with the condition for days. Nine motorists froze to death in their vehicles waiting for rescue and help. Cars were stalled all over making road impassable and transportation in and out of Buffalo almost stopped fully.
The government gave out a declaration of emergency that allowed the federal government to help keep a state of normalcy in the affected areas. Over five hundred national guardsmen were helping in the disaster management by use of 4 wheel drives and ice sledges which on calculation coasted a whooping twenty million Dollars and over. Looting was also a major problem which led to the arrest of nearly one hundred persons. There were reports of millions being lost by businesses as stores remained closed for the entire time. The blizzard was so Sevier that some of the Braves professional basketball games and sabres hockey games were postponed (Allaby & Garratt 124).
On the 5th February 1977, President Carter declared the nine counties a ‘major disaster area’. The strong wind drifts had converted the snow to a near solid state therefore making it nearly impossible to clear the road hence enable rescue and transport activities. This meant that the federal government needed an intensified method of carrying out it rescue and support activities. This was later to be done by the use of federal machinery. The Fort Drum County contributed some three hundred people, fifty eight trucks and eleven helicopters to help in the salvage and delivery of supplies. The federal government acted a little slow, but after the presidential disaster declaration was issued for the nine counties in the state, Watertown was selected to become the host for the Red Cross offices, Farmers Home Administration , Disaster Preparedness officers, Federal Disaster Assistance officers, Administration and Civil Small Business Administration officers and Defense officers temporary.
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In conclusion, the blizzard of 1977 can be described as one of the most devastating winters in the west. It is also evident that this occurrence saw the well formulated organization of a military body, not in the battle field, but in the rescue of a disaster torn society. This disaster brought together the unity of the different victims of the counties and this can be termed as citizenship and togetherness of a nation under devastation.
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