October Surprise


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Lake Effect snows are a fact of life in Western New York. Usually, cold air blows across the width of the warmer lake waters from Canada to south of Buffalo. Under those conditions and before the lake waters freeze, the Lake Effect storms can dump feet -- not inches -- of snow in ski country in just a few hours.

But October 12th was early. Fall had barely begun. Trees were still green, their leaves just beginning to turn to the brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows of Autumn. Boats were still moving along the Erie Canal. Snowblowers and generators were still stored in garages, their fuel tanks still empty. Portable radios, snowshovels, firewood, flashlights, bottled water and canned goods were yet to be thought about.

When a light snowfall began, I taped a few sequences -- just to have on hand for future projects.

The lake waters were 62-degrees. A cold air mass began moving across Lake Erie, not across its width, but up its length, targeting Buffalo and it's most populated suburbs.

For many in the Buffalo area, the first realization came with the sounds of huge trees cracking and splitting in the night.

And then, the return to seasonal temperatures and the fast melt. . . And water -- everywhere.

No one saw it coming -- the ferocity or lethality.

The parks were decimated.

Schools were closed for a week. Telephone lines still downed weeks later.

Thirteen people died.

The damage was the greatest of any storm in Buffalo's history.