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Great storms, better predictions

The “Great Pre-Thanksgiving Storm” was not much of a surprise for residents of Chautauqua County or Western New York having been predicted several days in advance — which is a real testament to how far weather forecasting, particularly of lake snows, has come in recent years.

After viewing videos of Buffalo Bill players struggling through waist-deep snow to reach pickup points for the trip to Detroit, I thought that if they had been living in Silver Creek, or any other Chautauqua County community that they could have been picked up at their front doors. I understand places like Orchard Park and Hamburg have more miles of streets to plow than Silver Creek, but I remember that during the 10 years I worked for the IRS in Cheektowaga that there were many times that I drove all the way home through snow squalls and didn’t encounter plowed streets until I entered Silver Creek. I don’t think that the Silver Creek DPW is ever surprised by snowstorms.

Over the course of the storm, the person who plows my driveway began to run out of places to put the snow and finally had to resort to piling it on my small front yard. Now my driveway is down to bare pavement but the spot on my lawn where I place some of my Christmas lights is still partially covered by a miniature glacier although that is in a rapid retreat because of our current warmer temperatures mixed with light rain.

However, the “Great Pre-Thanksgiving Storm” reminded me of the fact that the “Blizzard of ’77” was presaged by below normal temperatures and above normal snowfall in November and December of 1976. This led to an early freeze up of Lake Erie providing a storage place for millions of tons of fluffy snow needing only a Great Lakes gale to blow it into Western New York.

On the morning of Jan. 28, 1977, the right combinations of low temperatures and wind combined to form a wall of white that advanced off Lake Erie dropping visibility to near zero throughout Western New York with windchill temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees.

Those conditions led to my spending the night in the Brand Names at Union and Walden in Cheektowaga, where I was the assistant manager at the time, wrapped in a sleeping bag sleeping on a shelf in our warehouse. It was also the beginning of the end of my 1974 Chevy Nova but that’s another story. The days during the blizzard afforded many surprises to Western New Yorkers, few of which were good. I wondered if we were headed in the same direction.

Those recollections drove me to look at the long-range climate predictions made by the National Weather Service for November, December, and January. While the bad news is that it’s almost meteorological winter the good news is that for the rest of November temperatures will be normal to above normal and the long ranger forecast for the months of December, January, and February while predicting above normal precipitation gives us an even chance of either above or below temperatures for same period. All this leads me to think that we will have an average winter with normal amounts of rain, snow, sleet, and dark of night which should at least make the U.S. Postal Service comfortable.

If my prediction is wrong, keep in mind that I am basing them on National Weather Service data.

While this may be the best weather data available keep in mind that they are sometimes wrong. Unlike others I do not base my predictions on the width of the orange band in a wooly caterpillar’s fur, the date when the geese head south. the thickness of corn husks, or the size of pinecones. These are factors used by the Farmer’s Almanac and others for their weather prognostications but those predictions while making for an interesting read usually are not particularly accurate.

The National Weather Service provides excellent forecasts on its website with all sorts of background but few of we laypersons have the time to go through it every day, much less understand all the terminology. Therefore, my advice for anyone who doesn’t want to be surprised by the weather today or tomorrow should tune in to their local radio or television station first thing in the morning and again in the evening for their forecasts or go to the weather section of the OBSERVER which generally is an accurate forecast for that day’s weather.

Remember that even though the winters of ’76 and ’77 were a harsh, the Blizzard of 77, while predicted the morning of the blizzard, appeared practically out of nowhere and was a big surprise to most citizens, myself included. The “October Surprise” snowstorm of October 2006 which paralyzed Erie, Niagara, and Genesee counties was called a “surprise” for a very good reason. No one saw it coming until the snow started falling.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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