Monday, January 26, 2015

When Blizzards were Blizzards

Earlier this winter, my brother Doug and his wife Nancy endured a Buffalo snowfall with accumulations recorded between five and seven feet----but enough about them.  Their storm can’t be compared to the one Donna and I survived when we lived there, the historic Western New York Blizzard of ‘77.  In those days, before the environmentalists got their hands on our atmosphere, America was cranking out pollutants to beat the band, and Buffalo was a major band beater.  The weather pattern then was as follows:  In Buffalo’s summer, which usually fell sometime between the first and fifteenth of August, industrial waste would block the sun’s rays and help to hasten the season we were famous for, winter.  In winter, moisture from Lake Erie would condense around the various toxins in the clouds, and the result would be the descent of huge, semi-metallic snowflakes, and lots of them. 

Yes, other cities received occasional snow pollution; my brother Kenny, who as a child in Baltimore would catch snowflakes on his tongue, still has tongue shrapnel, which along with his suspicious-sounding last name, makes it tough for him to get through airport security.  But Buffalo snow was renowned for its high metallic content.  When the mountains of snow eventually melted, almost always before the Fourth of July, our kids would earn spending money raking up the metal fragments in the yard and selling them back to one of the local steel plants.  The air pollution wasn’t especially good for our lungs, but in those days, you must remember, lungs were toughened by the second-hand smoke everyone inhaled in public places.

Let the record show that the recent snow in Buffalo was comprised entirely of young, flighty November flakes.  By contrast, the Blizzard of ‘77 used only mature, January snow.  In Buffalo, January flakes are ripe and plump, and they hit like mini-snowballs.  The flakes in that blizzard were especially fat; every time three of them landed on each other they formed a snowman.  Donna and I were in Northeast Philly visiting our friends, Wayne and Phyllis Clapier, when we heard a forecast of heavy snow for western New York, which didn’t alarm us.  If at that point they had called it the historic blizzard of ‘77 we might have been more concerned, but no one got around to naming it until later.  It’s also true that at the time I didn’t put much stock in meteorologists’ forecasts because I thought, “What qualifies someone who studies meteors to make predictions about the weather?”  It has since been explained to me that meteorologists focus not on meteors, but on meteorites, and anything that plunges into our atmosphere must have some effect on it.  So I stand corrected.