Friday, October 13, 2006

The Snows of October

(10-14-06: Updated below!)

Stuff like this isn't unheard of in Buffalo, but in October? WTF is that?! There oughta be a cosmic law against snow events like this when the boys of summer are still on the field. Stupid weather gods. I hate them so much....

I'll put some photos up on Flickr at some point, but for now, it really was that bad. There's no New Buffalo-esque spinning this one: Mother Nature put the hurt on Buffalo last night, hard.

And as I made progress toward The Store, it got a hell of a lot less pretty. It got downright ugly, even. At that point in the morning, the roads had not been plowed, so the going consisted of these two fairly well-worn ruts in the snow. Once your car settled into those ruts, that was it. Steering was pretty much out of my hands -- except for the fact that the ruts were just slightly wider than the chassis of my car, so I kept sliding from the left rut to the right rut.

Of course, this will get Buffalo in the national spotlight again as that place where it snows constantly from October to May. That's complete shit, of course, but you can't fight the Weather Channel's narrative. Jerks. I hate them so much....

Another funny thing: while at The Store today, I could tell that the enormity of the situation was slowly becoming clear to the people of the area, because the shopping patterns shifted quite a lot from what people were buying early in the day versus later in the afternoon. Late in the day, the focus was on things like batteries, flashlights, candles, ice, milk, bread, and bottled water. Early in the day, though, many of the shoppers who were able to get to The Store at that point were buying cases of beer, multiple bags of chips and Doritos, packages of cookies and boxes of crackers. I was thinking for a while that in addition to dumping large amounts of snow on Buffalo, this storm also gave the region a massive case of The Munchies.

I'll say thanks right now to all the power crews from other states and regions who are, as of this writing, on their way to Buffalo to help with the repairs and restoration of power. I've been through something like this once before, on the weekend when we moved from Syracuse back to Buffalo (this was either the end of March or the beginning of April, 2003; look in the archives), and I can say from experience that those guys have many hours of backbreaking work ahead of them. So, citizens of Buffalo, be understanding if you go to a restaurant over the next few days and find that some power workers are actually getting preferential treatment, because, well, how would you like to leave your family for several days to spend ten to fourteen hours a day in the bucket of an electrical truck, in 40-degree weather?

And for that matter, if you do go to a restaurant while this disaster is going on, tip well unless your service is epic in its badness. Those people are getting their asses kicked.

OK, preaching over.

UPDATE: One thing that's always hard to convey to PWATUTLIB's (that's People Who Are Too Unfortunate To Live In Buffalo) is how sharply local the lake effect snows can be. One location can literally receive over a foot of snow, while another location just five miles away can receive a mere dusting. Now, the snow bands for this particular event were a bit larger than that, so pretty much everybody in the Buffalo Metro region (which spans about thirty miles from north to south, and more if you include Niagara Falls) got socked, but it's not at all unusual for there to be very heavy snows in one part of the area and nearly nothing in another. And if you're out and about in certain areas as the lake effect amps up, you can actually see the bands of clouds in the sky, making a heavy and dark line across the sky with bright, and possibly even blue and sunny, sky immediately adjacent.

Such an effect was visible on Thursday as the storm that hit us got going, and I saw it a lot because I was doing some out-of-Store driving as part of work that day. Sadly, I didn't have my camera, but I made a mental note to try to get a photo of that sharp lake-effect cloud line at some point this winter. Now I don't have to, because Derek got a couple of perfect shots of the phenomenon. Also check out Red, who has a weather map showing what lake effect looks like on the weather radar.

So what is the lake effect? Well, after summer it takes quite a while for the Great Lakes to cool down, so as the colder climes set in, there is often quite a disparity between the air temperatue and the water temperature. And if a system sets up that brings even colder air down from Canada and brings that frigid air across the relatively warm lake waters, that air picks up an astonishing amount of moisture, which then becomes precipitation as that air moves from over the water to over the land. Early in the fall this results in "lake effect rain", but when it gets cold enough, you get snow. Lots of snow. Boy howdy.

Now, Buffalo's not the only place that gets hit with lake effect snow. (In fact, the majority of the time the lake-effect snow bands in Western New York pile the lake effect snow south of Buffalo, because winds from the west are more common than the winds from the southwest. The downside there is that those southwest winds have a lot more water to fly over before they hit land, and when they do, the City of Buffalo is what's sitting right there. But the parts of Michigan that border Lake Michigan and Lake Huron also get lake-effect snow, as does the Syracuse area and the part of New York that lies just east of Lake Ontario. In fact, those parts of New York almost always get it a lot worse than Buffalo over the course of a winter, because most years Lake Erie -- being the shallowest of the Great Lakes -- will freeze over, which shuts down lake-effect snow production. Lake Ontario, which is four times as deep as Lake Erie, never freezes over.

Anyway, there's your science lesson. And you know what? All things considered, I'll still take our lake-effect snows over everybody else's wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, triple-digit summers, negative-degree winters, tornadoes, cyclones, and scrawny chicken wings. So, for all you people out there laughing at Buffalo and its October snow, I scoff at you! 'Tis but a scratch! It's only a flesh wound!


Roger Owen Green said...

And the real problem with early October snow, like the storm in Albany 19 years ago is that the leaves are still on the trees, which, with the snow, helps knock down branches, and therefore power lines.

SAW said...

Hi sir.
When I heard about the snow I though I'd pop over here and see if you'd posted about it. You have my deepest sympathies! Snow is cool, but wow. I live in Charlottesville, Va., but I'm from upstate NY and was living in Plattsburgh, NY, for the ice storm of '98. My mate and I are considering moving back up to NY state in the next few years and when she saw the dump on TV she just looked at me and said, "...and you want to move back to THAT!?" What can I say... better a bit of snow than living in George Allen's Confederate Paradise. ;-)

Keep on keeping on, brother. Peace!

Aaron said...

And of course the TV people here were freaking out over the snow we got. Um, or didn't really. I saw a few flakes floating around but...

TV people, I hate them so much

Anonymous said...

i thought about you guys as i heard the reports of weather in your neck of the woods....does tgis mean i am online too much?
nevertheless, i wasn't worried.
you live in Buffalo for pity's sake. perhaps y'all were caught unawares but thi i nothing. winter has yet to come.
take care.