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  The Truth About Snow in Buffalo

See for yourself:

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.
Okay, Listen Up, Class

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.

We 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 Winterfest has been postponed more than once due to lack of snow.

Yes, we had a truly spectacular storm in 1977, although 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, acid rain, droughts,  and plagues of locusts.  Buffalonians don't have to worry these things.   Snowstorms don't destroy buildings.  Thousands of us live in fabulous Victorian houses that have survived over a hundred Buffalo winters and will survive another hundred.

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 keep 800 miles of streets (in the City of Buffalo alone) clear.  In other words, snowstorms don't necessarily paralyze cities, but automobile dependency certainly does.  Metro Rail, our light-rail line, works fine in any weather. Service has been curtailed or canceled due to snow only three times since Metro Rail opened in 1985.

Consider Johnstown, PA, which once had a spectacular flood. Buffalo has something in common with Johnstown, in that we do not spend our winter under six feet of drifts any more than Johnstown spends its summer under six feet of water. Thus it is that the atypical event stands out, attracting widespread attention, thereby obscuring the fact that it is, in fact, not typical. There must be a word for this well-understood media distortion effect.

In 1901, before the advent of Polarfleece, down parkas, water- and snow-proof footwear, thermal underwear, heated vehicles with snow tires, mechanized snow plows, home insulation, weather sealing, snowblowers, and radar weather prediction, this outsider thought that our climate was "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."
--Powell, Lyman, ed. Historic Towns of the Middle States. New York: Knickerbocker Press,1901, p. 387.  [Emphasis added.]
It is as if the more that modern technologies transform winter from a mortal threat to a seasonal inconvenience, the more insulted we feel that winter even exists at all.  The more tolerable it becomes, the more intolerant we become.

The Scandinavians get the final word.  They have a saying: There is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing.

The Real Story: The Best Summers in the Northeast

Not surprisingly, in 2008, Buffalo logged more days with at least 50% sunshine (167) than Rochester (56) and Syracuse (164).  But we also beat out Orlando, FL (119).

Source: Becker, Maki.  "Buffalo basks in bright news."  Buffalo News, January 10, 2009, p. A-1.

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?

Orange Divider
Thanks to Jerry for the street mile estimate.  Miss the groovy '90s version of this page?  Here it is.  

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