A description of two large blizzards (1977 and 2011) and their effects on western New York, Southern Ontario, and Chicago.
The Groundhog’s Day “Blizzard of 2011” is over and clean-up activities in the northeast United States and Southern Ontario are underway.
Heralded as the 3rd worst blizzard in Chicago’s history, the windy city was hit especially hard. Flights were cancelled leaving thousands of travelers stranded at the O’Hare International and other airports. Hundreds of motorists were trapped by the blowing snow on highways and had to abandon their vehicles, many with no place to retreat to.
Rescuers, firefighters, and the National Guard were evacuating stranded motorists using snowmobiles. For as long as 10 hours or more, many people were stranded in their cars without food, in the cold once their fuel was exhausted.
The State Governor declared a state of emergency. With wind gusts of over 60 MPH and drifts as tall as six feet, stories of misery, cold, and despair remain to be told. A story is told of one motorist who left his stranded vehicle and attempted to walk to safety but was swept away by the waves of Lake Michigan. The body was recovered the following day.
This amazing snow blizzard in the trek through the northeast thankfully broke into two smaller centers and skirted our home in Toronto, Canada. Cities south of here (for example, Hamilton, ON,) and due north (like Barrie, ON,) received the worst of this storm.
Blizzards Today and Yesterday
The Great Groundhog’s Day Blizzard will not be soon forgotten. Interestingly enough, it was 34 years ago, February 1rst, that another great blizzard the notorious “Blizzard of ‘77” officially came to an end. This was the blizzard that made snowstorm warning vogue.
Prior to the Blizzard of 1977, snow warnings in the news were typically not given great heed. For this ‘snow belt’ region, weather reports of big snowstorms was just something that filled the news hour sometime after sports scores were announced. ‘Everyone talks about the weather but nobody seems to do anything about it’ was the general perception.
This platitude was about to change.
Blizzard of '77
On January 28th, 1977 and continuing through to February 1st, a perfect storm was brewing. A record-breaking blizzard was about to hit western New York State and southern Ontario
Prior to the onset of the Blizzard of ’77, it had been colder than average. Lake Erie was mostly frozen over. When a lake freezes-over, “lake effect” snowfall stops. The high pressure system cannot gather enough moisture to snow excessively.
However, during this particular winter, Lake Erie had a thick layer of powdery snow on the ice. With the winds that came, the snow was lifted and deposited across southern Ontario, city of Buffalo, NY and throughout the southern tier of the state. The effect was unprecedented. Record accumulations of snowfall occurred in very short order. The city of Buffalo, NY was totally unprepared for what ensued.
Wind-swept snow was ruthlessly deposited upon highways and runways where it became dense and compacted, stranding vehicles and ultimately making removal difficult. Drifting snow blocked roads and freeways, affecting travel.
Many vehicles were trapped on high-rise bridges and overpasses. It would be hours before rescuers could come. Many motorists idled their engine for warmth until the fuel tank ran empty, forcing them to abandon their vehicle. This would make rescue even more difficult.
Lake Effect Snow
Because Lake Ontario was slightly warmer and had not iced-over yet, the high winds drew humidity from the lake and fueled the dreaded ‘lake effect’ snowfall for Ontario and northern New York State, adding to the mayhem.
It was a snowstorm unlike any in memory. Government offices, businesses, and schools were closed for days. Grocery stores if they were open, sold out of everything. There was a total ban on driving in the city. Abandoned vehicles dotted the city’s highways, further complicating emergency vehicle access and clean-up efforts.
Electricity was out in many municipalities. Events brought about by the blizzard brought out the best and the worst in many citizens. Neighbours helped neighbours like never before, sharing their homes and lending a hand where needed. On the other hand, price gouging occurred on items such as snow removal tools, emergency supplies and especially, items such as gasoline-powered electric generators. There were numerous reports of working generators being stolen from people’s back yards.
If anything good can be said to have come as a result of this storm it was the realization how important weather forecasting is. And for the lucky citizens of western New York State, an annual treat— something to enjoy, remember, and be in defiance of the Blizzard of '77—an ice cream flavor unlike any other before or since: Zero Visibility
In recognition and remembrance of this terrible storm, Perry’s Ice Cream of Akron, NY created a seasonal ice cream named after the storm. Famous today for the much-loved “Panda Paws” ice cream, many people remain unaware of Perry’s seasonal production of this equally alluring frozen confection dedicated to the winter storm of the century
Perry’s “Zero Visibility” (formerly known as “Blizzard of ‘77”) is a vanilla ice cream with genuine coconut rum and coconut flakes! Truly a white-out ice cream that warms the heart with vanilla ice cream, coconut flakes and the sweet woody flavor of coconut rum!
Available for just a few short weeks in mid-winter only, Perry’s Zero Visibility ice cream brings back memories of the winter that bore witness to one of the worst blizzards in western New York and southern Ontario history and leaves me to wonder if there will be another awesome ice cream creation in the works. I am hopeful for yet another winning ice cream flavor, something equally amazing to commemorate the Groundhog’s Day Blizzard of 2011.