In the interest of full disclosure, I love lake effect snow. I must, I've spent the past eight years living on the east side and three years before that living in Buffalo, N.Y.
People often ask me to compare the two snow wise and I never hesitate to say it's worse here in Northeast Ohio. Not for the severity of the storms -- Western New York owns that one -- but for the relentless assault that starts each November and runs through March or late April as we found in 2005.
When Cleveland's secondary snow belt gets hit, the winds tend to be out of the NNW so the moisture picked up is limited by the narrow width of Lake Erie stretching north to Canada. That's not to say we can't get hammered -- we know we can -- but more often than not it's in the dusting to a foot range.
Buffalo, on the other hand, gets hammered when the winds are out of the SW. When that happens, the city stands the chance of getting a flow of air that travels over the entire 250-mile length of the lake. Storms can hit with such fury that they dump snow at the rate of four inches an hour.
That's exactly what happened 10 years ago this week when Buffalo got caught off guard by a storm that brought the city to a standstill and left thousands of people including school children stranded in their vehicles overnight.
It was Monday November 20, 2000 and the forecast called for lake effect snow showers that could bring to 6" to 12" of accumulation. In Buffalo that's nothing, so for the most part when the snow started to fall around 11 a.m., people didn't give all that much thought. By noon, it had picked up in intensity to around 3" an hour.
Because this much snow wasn't expected, Buffalo schools didn't let out early. So by the time they did dismiss around 2:30 p.m., the roads were becoming difficult to navigate and filled with the cars of all the downtown business people who were going home early.
Factor in this gridlock, along with snow coming down now at around 4" an hour, and you had a total shutdown. Where your car was at 4 p.m. Monday was likely where it was to be found at 4 a.m. Tuesday.
People started abandoning their cars and seeking shelter where they could -- at restaurants, fire stations, stores.
Since I anchored the morning show at WKBW-TV, I made it home at 12:30 p.m. and watched it all unfold from my window. I lived a few hundred yards from Millard Fillmore Hospital on Gates Circle, where seven busloads of Buffalo school kids would walk to and spend the night. My neighbor downstairs took in someone stuck in their car out front.
By 5 p.m. the thunder snow started, with lightning bolts that reflected the fast falling snow with a brightness I've never seen before or since. It was absolutely breathtaking. By 6:30 p.m. it was done, the snow had stopped and we got 25" of snow in about seven hours.
Since I had to get up at 2:30 a.m. I went to bed early. But around midnight, I woke to look out the window to see how the roads looked -- that's when I realized nothing had changed. With the roads clogged with cars, the plows couldn't get through. If I was going to make it into the station that morning, I had to walk the three miles and I better get started soon.
I put on my ski gear, loaded up a bag of clothes and took off on foot. What I passed as I walked down Delaware Avenue was a scene out of a movie -- a three mile stretch of road with bumper-to-bumper cars, most abandoned, some with people sleeping, others with people partying.
Yes, in true Buffalo fashion the storm provided the backdrop for what turned out to be the city's largest tailgate, as those stranded bought up any of the "spirits" they could find within walking distance.
In my walk, I helped push about a half dozen cars and was offered an equal number of beers, which near the end I was tempted to take. It would take all of Tuesday and in to Wednesday to tow the streets clear and get them cleaned up, but keep in mind Wednesday was also the day before Thanksgiving.
If you ever in your life think you've been in a crowded supermarket, you have no idea. Since the storm hit the city by surprise, everybody was out of everything and now they had to not only restock they needed their fixings for Thanksgiving the next day.
At my market there wasn't a parking spot or a shopping cart to be found, and people were buying whatever they could get their hands on for fear of passing on something they may need later and not be able to find. By the end of the day, the shelves were empty.
The funny thing is 13 months later, Buffalo would get hit again, this time with seven feet of snow over five days. The difference was we were ready for that snow and it fell during Christmas week when kids were off from school and many were home from work.
That's why, for my money, the November 20, 2000 storm was the worst I had ever seen.
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