Thursday, January 21, 2016

I Survived the Blizzard of '77

Update: January 28, 2017: Today is the 40th anniversary!

One year and one week from today will be the 40th anniversary of the infamous Blizzard of 1977, which pummeled Western New York and Southern Ontario, Canada, with record-breaking snowfall from January 28 - February 1, 1977. Try 100 inches in some areas with 30 to 40-foot drifts (yes, feet). Gusts of up to 70 mph produced windchills as low as -60 F. It was the blizzard of all blizzards...

And I was there to witness it all.

A photo from the Lockport newspaper. Those people are standing on top of a house.

I was a 13-year-old kid living in this house on West Center Street in Medina, N.Y. It had been four years since my parents divorced, and this was the last place in town my mother took me and my sister. We rented the top floor for something like $200 a month. Below us lived our landlord, Mrs. Smith. She was an elderly lady, perhaps in her mid-70s at the time, and it was my job to keep the narrow pathway out back shoveled in case she needed to get to the hospital.

Well, the winds began to pick up early Friday morning on January 28, and by late afternoon the blizzard was in full swing. My mother worked as a waitress at the Apple Grove Inn restaurant, and I recall her just making it back home before sunset. The restaurant was only a few miles down the road, but it took her at least half an hour. From then on we were all transfixed by the TV and radio reports on the storm. You can listen to some of them along with an excellent slideshow of storm photos in this video.

The TV miniseries Roots was airing its sixth episode on the first day of the storm, and I vividly recall watching that for a bit and returning outside to shovel. Back and forth, back and forth. Once the storm ended a few days later, there was a corridor through the snow from the back door to the garage taller than me.

The entire Western New York area was impassible and all the highways were shut down. Many people were trapped in their cars for days. President Jimmy Carter declared it a disaster area. There were 28 storm-related deaths. Police and rescue teams asked residents who owned snowmobiles to help out since the roads were pretty much non-existent. My father was one of those snowmobilers who offered assistance.

Days out of school? I think it must have been at least two weeks. A wonderful two weeks. My god, there was a lot of snow. A LOT. I remember seeing a photo in the newspaper of three cars pushed on top of each other in a snow bank by one of those large highway plows. It was pretty crazy.

Like most Western New Yorkers and Buffalonians, I am proud to say that I lived through this. We witnessed and survived one of the worst blizzards on record. It wasn't the first, and it certainly wasn't the last, but it will always last in our memories.

Sixteen years later I got trapped outside in the Blizzard of '93 in the same area and almost died. You can read that story, "Adrift," in my book Musings of a Dysfunctional Life.

Post your Blizzard of '77 memory below and share.

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  1. I remember well. I was 17 and worked at the LCSO in Livingston Co in Michigan. I decided that it would be my last winter in Michigan. Moved to NC and stayed here. That was the winter that would always be in my memory as one of the worst in history...but I do remember driving in that storm to go to work and when I got there they were like, "what in the world are you doing here"? Go HOME. LOL

  2. Now that was a blizzard! I was snowed in the Belle Starr Lodge on the hill opposite Kissing Bridge Ski Center in Glenwood, NY. The TV transmission tower on the hill above me went out so they commandeered a Thiokol snowcat to take a technician up to fix it. These tractors have 4-foot wide treads and designed to groom ski slopes. Needless to say they got stuck in the deep snow and had to seek shelter in a farmer's home. When the wind and the snow finally stopped I was able to go top of the hill above the Belle Starr to find Center Street to East Aurora entirely drifted in. The snow was so deep I could step OVER the power lines on top of the power poles. It was that deep for miles along that ridge. Entire houses and barns were buried up to their roofs.

  3. I worked in north chili at gates albert and took me at least 3 hours to get to the Parma town hall where I ended up staying the night and in the morning went back to work and got in trouble by my boss because the roads where closed and I drove that far to work and ended up staying there worked over time if I remember right i snuck out and went home LOL

  4. I was 5 years old but I remember making snow fort in the road and trying to shovel to play street hockey.

  5. 11 years old and, @ that age, loved every minute of it. We lived in Williamsville, and the following spring, my parents began looking for new jobs in the southern states. We moved to Knoxville, TN in the next year and have stayed in the south from then until now. Very few down here believe the stories about that storm, and still suggest that some of the pictures I share with them are photo-shopped. We used the snow in the backyard to keep food cold, watched 'Roots', and enjoyed the break from school. Thanks for your post.

  6. I was fighting a 4 alarm + fire on Buffalo westside along with many other brother firefighters in -50 degree winds....

  7. I was born January 28, 1977 at Lakeside Memorial Hospital in Brockport, NY, so while I was present, all I know of the storm is what I see in pictures and what my parents told me. Apparently it took my dad a week to get to the hospital after I was born due to the snow.

  8. I was living and working in Batavia NY at the time. One child was at Day Care and the other was in school. As a single mother I was a little panicky when the school called with an early discharge notice. My son was taken to the Day Care Center by bus. About 4:30 the office closed. A co-workers husband had a four wheeled vehicle and he offered to pick me up and go to the Day Care Center for my children. Terrified we started the 1 1/2 mile trip home. Only one street was passable and that was in the middle of a 4 lane highway. The rest if the trip was down between houses and over sidewalks. There were already cars and trucks blocking the streets. We are safe and sound after the half hour drive. We never saw a plow for 5 days. We were in great shape without our electricity. One week later we returned to work and school! I will never forget the very sad lady's voice when we would pick up the phone. Her husband had arrived home but had never come out of the garage. This poor elderly lady was on the nonfunctional telephone pleading for help! A day later we heard her husband had passed away for a heart attack. Many people had a much harder then we did but I will never forget that storm!

  9. I was 19 and visiting in the southern tier (Hornell,Steuben County) when my mother called and told me a storm was coming and I should get home (north of Medina, Orleans County). There was hardly a cloud in the sky but I headed out anyway and I'm glad that I didn't wait. When I reached a point a few miles south of Pavilion it was as if someone had thrown a bed-sheet over my windshield, but I was fortunate that a state snowblower was just turning around and heading back toward Batavia. So I followed. All roads heading north out of Batavia were closed. I even tried some back roads to get around the roadblocks but there were piles of vehicles already stuck and blocking traffic. So I decided to do my north-south travel in Monroe County. I headed east. In Monroe the sun was once again shining. I headed north until I reached US104 and turned back west. Just before I entered Orleans Country I ran back into the storm. Two semi's were jackknifed on the sides of road and I had to ram the drift between them to get through but I made it home after over 4 hours of driving in the storm. All this in a rear-wheel drive muscle car with wide slicks on the back.

    When I went out to feed the horses later that night I had to crawl through the door in the hay mow because the barn was already 2/3 buried.

  10. My 420 page oral history book about the Blizzard of '77 continues to sell well and has become a classic disaster book where the survivors tell their stories of survival and heroism. White Death the Blizzard of '77 at

  11. Three different additions for White Death and many printings since 1978