Now we know what we missed

March 20, 2001|By Deborah Williams

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- There may be a few Baltimore residents who were disappointed that the "Perfect Storm of 2001" turned out to be a dud.

As the winter of 2000-2001 ends with the first day of spring today, Baltimoreans might like to know what they missed.

Although Buffalo has even an international reputation as the Snow King, Syracuse, N.Y., is tops among all northeastern cities, with more than 184.7 inches so far this year, as of Friday.

Its comfortable lead over second-place Buffalo -- a mere 143.4 inches -- makes Syracuse a lock for this year's Golden Snowball Award. Yes, there is such an award.

Buffalo still holds the all-time record for northeastern cities with 199.4 inches, set in the infamous winter of 1976-1977.

But Syracuse holds the record for the highest seasonal average snowfall of any American city with more than 100,000 people, according to National Weather Service records.

Winter struck early this season. Spoiled by a couple recent mild winters, few area residents were prepared for the great snow of Nov. 20, dubbed "Chestnut" by the weather service.

With more than two feet of snow, it broke all records for November. Yes, we keep records, even for storms in May.

There was a memorable snowstorm on Mother's Day a few years ago, making for an interesting competition for joggers in the Mother's Day Run. It melted fast, though.

Blame much of the area's heavy snow on Lake Erie. TV weathermen go on endlessly about snow belts and lake-effect storms. Bands of snow can be very narrow -- with accumulations of two feet in one town and zero the next town over.

These intense, narrow bands of snow can also produce "whiteouts," in which a car is surrounded by wind-whipped snow, creating blind driving conditions. It's a road experience like no other, especially with a tractor-trailer on your tail.

The November storm marooned thousands of people in their vehicles all night. Several thousand children spent the night in schools, fire halls, supermarkets and other buildings.

A baby named Starr Younger was born in the midst of the storm in a medical office because her parents could not make it three blocks to a hospital. The mother's midwife arrived by snowmobile, which she hailed on one of Buffalo's streets.

That storm spawned humor during the unusual post-election season: "What's the difference between a snowstorm in Buffalo and an election in Florida?" Answer: "The snowstorm is over in 24 hours."

During rough winters, everyone cheers the announcement that Lake Erie has frozen, reducing the chances for lake-effect storms. Syracuse is affected by similar storms off Lake Ontario, which doesn't freeze, since it is much deeper than Lake Erie.

There's excitement, even drama, in a good, old-fashioned Buffalo snowstorm.

If you're lucky enough to be home with a good wood stove, chocolate, wine and family, it can be lovely. And if you have a Labrador retriever who loves to romp in mounds of snow, it can be fun.

But most everyone, except for diehard skiers, will be cheering the first crocus and daffodil to poke their perky heads above the snow.

Deborah Williams is a free-lance writer who lives in Buffalo.

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