Saturday, January 30, 2010

Post your blizzard memories here! Where were you during the blizzard of '77?

The Great Blizzard of '77.

Residents of southern Niagara and western New York had never witnessed such a ferocious winter storm. Most likely, they will never witness one like it again. It was unprecedented.. unchartered.. unbelievable..

It came in an instant, yet its memories have lasted for ever.

Southern Niagara and Western New York are familiar with lake effect snow storms, but they usually only last a few hours to a day or so , dumping heavy snow and causing travel problems. But the blizzard of '77 was unlike anything southern Niagara had ever experienced before. It was the result of an unprecedented series of circumstances coming together to produce one of the worst winter storms in Niagara's history. A record cold winter, record deep snow and a powerful long-lasting storm system combined to produce this infamous storm that will forever be part of Niagara weather history.

This blog is to share your stories about the great storm. Where we you when it happened? How did it affect you? Let us know.. comment on the blog and I'll add entries to my website.

As for me, I was a Grade 9 student at Centennial high school in Welland Ontario when the storm hit. They closed the school around lunchtime or early afternoon, and we got to go home early. Luckily for my brothers and me, we lived within walking distance of our home, as did most kids. So we got home OK and spent the next 4 days marooned at home... listening to local radio station CHOW with all their emergency broadcasting. For many school kids who relied on bus transportation, they were stuck at school for several days before they could be rescued. There was no way for buses to reach the schools as roads become clogged with stuck cars, marooned by the zero visibility and heavy drifting. Snowmobiles became the primary life line and transportation mode that weekend, ferrying hundreds of students and stranded motorists to their loved ones. The storm finally ended on the Tuesday, but school was canceled for the entire week before the region could struggle back to normal again.

There have been bad snowstorms since.. but never anything to rival the ferocity and suddenness of the Blizzard of '77. Were you there?

10 comments:

  1. I lived in Fonthill, Ontario at the time of the Blizzard of 77. I was at home with a newborn baby, my husband worked at John Deere in Welland and called to say he wasn't going to be able to get home. My brother-in-law took one of our snowmobiles and went into Welland to pick him up. Then they each took a snowmobile and went back to take others home and some of those people had snowmobiles and they also returned to get more people home. Somehow, they found out about a young girl in Port Colborne, at home by herself, her parents unable to get home. Her grandparents lived on Elm St. near Forkes Rd., so my husband and brother-in-law picked her up and took her to her grandparents' house.

    My husband's cousin's wife had a baby at Welland Hospital and was scheduled to come home the day of the storm but ended up having to stay until it was over. Shift change left the hospital short staffed due to impassable roads, so nurses were doing long shifts and were being shifted to wards more in need, leaving those mothers who were able, to help out in the nursery. In those days, you stayed in hospital 5 days after having a baby. All babies were kept in the nursery and only brought to the mothers at feeding time. The nurses bathed and changed the babies and, unless the baby was breast fed, they remained in the nursery all night as well.

    When I heard calls on the radio for baby formula and diapers, I was glad I had opted for breastfeeding and cloth diapers.

    My husband and brother-in-law were among the volunteers who took supplies to houses in Wellandport and Wainfleet. Even the military vehicles with caterpillar half-tracks were unable to get through. The roads were completely drifted over, leaving the tops of hydro poles as the only markers to follow. Entire two-storey houses were hidden from view behind snowdrifts. They had to be extremely careful and go slowly because they could be riding along on the top of a huge drift that came to an abrupt drop-off revealing a house on the other side.

    When the storm finally passed, my husband took me out on the snowmobile just around our area. Along the plowed streets, you could see the side doors of cars buried in the snowbanks with 2 feet of snow on top of them. He took me to an intersection where there was a school bus, a snowplow and several vehicles, abandoned in the middle of what looked like a snow "crater". You couldn't see it until you were on the edge of the rim. The wind had swirled and packed the snow around the intersection leaving the vehicles sitting on bare pavement. Apparently the snowplow came to the intersection and couldn't get past the vehicles but the wind had already blown the road closed behind him so he couldn't go back either.

    A neighbour told me she had been doing groceries at the Pen Centre. She was driving back on Hwy 406 and it was snowing but not real bad. When she came to the intersection of 406 and Hwy 20, she couldn't believe it. There were cars stranded in snow and people gathering in a small group out on the road. They were near the Town's sand and salt storage buildings (we called them the "Dolly Parton" buildings :-)) so everyone helped gather stuff from cars and they took shelter in the storage buildings. There were others that had been grocery shopping too, so at least they had plenty of food to weather the storm.

    My sister's husband was teaching in Fort Erie and got stranded on his way home to Port Colborne. The only thing around was a small bar whose heating system decided to quit that day, but the owner had a small space heater in the office so they all took turns going into the office to warm up.

    The Blizzard of 77 is definitely something we will not forget.

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  2. Thanks for your post! It was definitely a harrowing experience for many people. Hard to believe that Niagara could experience such a ferocious winter storm, especially this winter! Nothing matched the winters of the late 70s in southern Ontario.

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  3. I have been told a great story of this day. My mother was in labour for two days before I was born January 28th 1977. My aunt and my grandmother had to spend the nights and days in the hospital with my mother because they were snowed in. I have seen pictures of cars buried houses almost completely covered.
    As we continue to get snow fall this year my thoughts return to the stories of the greatest winter storm of all time that I became a part of when I entered into this world.

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  4. Great story cowboy! What a way to enter the world! Happy 34th Birthday!

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  5. 35th anniversary of the Great storm today. Hard to believe that such a storm could happen given how mild and snowfree it's been this winter. Winters now are nothing like they were back in the 70s!

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  6. I was 10 years old at the time of the blizzard of '77, and I lived in the Town of Tonawanda. What I remember the most, was my father, who was a state trooper, calling my mother on Thursday morning from work. This was a day before the storm began. He told her to immediately go to the supermarket and stock up on food because a storm was coming. The police and other authorities knew to take this seriously. The general public seemed to take the warning of another snow event in stride. When I think back now, I'm glad my family was prepared because we were snowed in for about a week.

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  7. I was in Grade 1 at the time, in Fonthill. I remember my mother showing up even before school was let out early to bring me home.
    What I remember about that weekend is that my father was stranded at work in Welland (like many others), and that while we were not specifically prepared for a storm that forced us to stay home for a few days, we were stocked up on things that were canned and frozen, so we made it through without worry.
    The amazing thing that winter--and many others I recall as a kid in the Niagara area--is the wonderful snow forts we could make from the great drifts of snow.
    Your site (at http://members.shaw.ca/wellandwx/blizzard77.htm) is really cool for its photos, thanks for sharing.

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  8. It seems there must have been something out of the ordinary going on with the winters of the later 1970's! There is the story of this monumental snow disaster happening for you in your area in January of 1977, only to be followed by the "Great Blizzard of '78" from January 24th to the 27th that severely impacted the Ohio Valley and the upper Midwest, in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, southeast Wisconsin and Michigan, and then into southern portions of Ontario as well.This tells better than I could:

    As the storm headed for Ohio, this resulted in a "storm of unprecedented magnitude", according to the National Weather Service, which categorized it as a rare severe blizzard, the most severe grade of winter storm. Particularly hard hit were the states of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and southeast Wisconsin where up to 40 inches (102 cm) of snow fell. Winds gusting up to 100 miles per hour (161 km/h) caused drifts that nearly buried some homes. Wind chill values reached −60 °F (−51 °C) across much of Ohio where 51 of the total 70 storm-related deaths occurred. The second lowest atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the United States, apart from a tropical system, occurred as the storm passed over Cleveland, Ohio. The barometer fell to 28.28 inches of mercury (958 mbar) on the morning of January 26. Nearby Detroit, Michigan fell to 28.34 inches of mercury (960 mbar).

    The absolute low pressure with this storm was picked up at Sarnia, Ontario at around the same time, where the barometer bottomed out at 28.21 inches of mercury (955 mbar). Toronto fell to 28.40 inches, breaking the old record by 0.17. Canada did not escape the wrath of the storm as blizzard conditions were common across southwestern Ontario. London was paralyzed by 41 centimetres (16 in) of snow and winds gusting to 128 kilometres per hour (80 mph). The storm initially began as rain but quickly changed over to heavy snow during the pre-dawn hours (as arctic air deepened ahead of the storm) leading to frequent whiteouts and zero visibility during the day on Thursday, January 26.

    The blizzard was the worst in Ohio history where 51 people died as a result of the storm. Over 5000 members of the Ohio National Guard were called in to make numerous rescues. Police asked citizens who had four-wheel-drive vehicles or snowmobiles to transport doctors to the hospital. From January 26 to 27, the entire Ohio Turnpike was shut down for the first time ever. The total effect on transportation in Ohio was described by Major General James C. Clem of the Ohio National Guard as comparable to a nuclear attack. Michigan Governor William Milliken declared a state of emergency and called out the Michigan National Guard to aid stranded motorists and road crews. The Michigan State Police pronounced Traverse City, Michigan "unofficially closed" and warned area residents to stay home."

    In Indiana on day two, just a half-hour after the arctic front blasted through, the Indianapolis International Airport was closed due to whiteout conditions. At 3 am, the blizzard produced peak winds of 55 mph. Temperatures dropped to zero that morning. Wind chills remained a bone-chilling 40 to 50 below zero nearly all day. The governor Otis R. (Doc) Bowen declared a snow emergency for the entire state the morning of the 26th. Snow drifts of 10 to 20 feet made travel virtually impossible, stranding an Amtrak train and thousands of vehicles and weary travelers. During the afternoon of the 26th, the Indiana State Police considered all Indiana roads closed.

    In Brampton, Ontario (northwest of Toronto) on Thursday afternoon, school buses could not get through deep snow to the then-rural campus of Sheridan College to take students home. Neither could any other vehicles, so some community college students had to stay on campus overnight."

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  9. My husband and I had just moved from the southeastern coastline of Virginia where I was raised, to northwestern Indiana after he was released from the Air Force in Virginia. We had been married barely a year, and made this move in September of 1977! Just in time for my "Baptism of Snowfall" about 2 hours south of Chicago! We were treated to most of the worst of the storm, although survived it well, having just taken up residence in our own apartment which was composed of the entire 2nd floor of a large house. Fortunately, it was relatively well insulated and the landlord didn't mind turning up the heat and keeping us warm! Living upstairs helped, go be sure.

    We lived on the "main drag" of this tiny town, two doors from the local grocery, but I had taken heed of my own instincts and did all my major shopping in the next larger town with a bigger market, so we had plenty of food for the two of us.
    We woke up finally after the worst was over to find ourselves able, if we so desired, go step out our 2nd floor living room window, and take a walk! Our front door, on ground level was nowhere to be seen! We and the landlord had some family and friends come dig us out so we could leave if it became necessary! It wasn't, and we didn't, not for a couple of days.

    I worked at a small local industry producing electrical coils and related components by hand and machine, which was about three blocks away, but because of the distance many others had to travel, and the insecurity of the continued electrical power for a while, they closed for two days and paid everyone anyway.

    Many people had been stranded on I65 which is the major north/south Interstate to and from Chicago and points north of them, and south of us. The local National Guard Armory was charged with the task of rescuing as many as they could get to on the Interstate and bring them to the Armory. Fortunately, they are located about one mile away, on the main highway that connects at the Interstate interchange, and are also a Medical unit, so skilled soldiers were available to make these rescues.

    Then, as if that were not enough, there followed on the heels of that storm, in February another 'Blizzard of '78' in the northeastern portion of the country, enveloping New England, New York City metropolitan area, and Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts areas, all particularly hard hit.

    Boston received a then-record 27.1 inches (69 cm) of snow; Providence also broke a record, with 27.6 inches (70 cm) of snow; Atlantic City broke an all-time storm accumulation with 20.1 inches (51 cm). Nearly all economic activity was disrupted in the worst-hit areas. The storm killed approximately 100 people in the Northeast and injured around 4,500. The storm also caused over US $520 million (US$1.88 billion in 2015 terms) in damage.

    Since it developed during a new moon, an unusually large high tide occurred, and the storm brought a massive amount of water along coastal communities. The huge storm surge resulted in broken sea walls and massive property loss.

    Strong winds and extremely heavy precipitation brought zero visibility for travelers, and numerous power outages ensued. The precipitation changed to rain on Cape Cod, reducing the total snowfall, but snow continued in the west. By the time it ended, thousands of people were stranded and homeless as a result of the storm."

    And this wasn't all! The early 80's were also particularly brutal in winter weather conditions. I 'm just wondering what it was about our weather patterns at the time that allowed for such catastrophic weather events in the wintertimes?? I know there were others, because I recall traveling in them. But I'll leave it at this for now!!

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