Buffalo Snow

:date: 2022-11-23 19:07 :tags:

Last week we were spending time in Xenia, OH, an unlikely confluence of superb world class bike trails. Some days into our trip we saw that snow was expected back home in Buffalo. We planned to return at the weekend but it soon became clear that was not going to work out.

Pretty quickly Buffalo jumped to the top of weather news sensational headlines as a lake effect snow storm settled on the area. Astonishing totals were reported, as high as 77 inches in 48 hours.

Here's CNN's report. Here are a lot of photos.

Here's the house of someone I heard from personally in West Seneca.


Clearly some people were having a tough time. Including us.

We were blocked from returning home because all the roads from the south leading to Buffalo were closed. Very annoyed to be missing skiing snow, I did some creative trip planning and drove to Roscommon, MI, home of the best Nordic skiing shop IMO. They were also having lake effect snow but it was manageable. This allowed me to buy some more skis (two pairs) and enjoy skiing on some very nice trails.

Here I'm skiing their excellent trail network. (Can't say I'm chuffed about needing to wear orange in order to not get shot, but at least it's already a big part of my sartorial aesthetic because of other people who want to kill me.)


Here is an unusual shot of me on the live XCSkiHQ Trail Cam (staring at a telephone like a perfectly normal person  —  bonus points if you can deduce the essence of the text I was sending). This shows how much early season snow central Michigan was also getting (from a different Lake's lake effect).


We stayed the weekend in MI hoping the weather would calm down a bit and then cunningly sneaked home through Canada, a full circumnavigation of Lake Erie.

Since my mail is addressed to "Buffalo, NY" people who knew me wondered if my house had collapsed or something like that. No. Astonishingly, my neighborhood got annoyingly little snow. I say "annoyingly" because people who like skiing would be delighted to see snow thoroughly covering everything. What is a malicious weather god to do when I've thwarted its plan to use snow to block my return home by showing up from the other direction with new skis? Do not underestimate the malevolent weather gods!

It turns out that what is more interesting than the prodigious snow totals that were reported in the news is the even more astonishing variance.

Take a look at this weather.gov table which I believe is the Erie County (New York) 48-hour snow totals as of November 19.

Orchard Park 77.0 in 0700 AM 11/19 Trained Spotter
Hamburg 1.9 NNW 73.7 in 0900 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
2 SW Blasdell 65.0 in 0826 PM 11/18 Trained Spotter
Elma 2.7 WSW 58.2 in 0700 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
1 SW West Seneca 49.0 in 0100 AM 11/19 Cocorahs
East Aurora 0.1 ENE 47.5 in 0700 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
Angola 46.0 in 0800 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
Boston 2.5 NE 43.7 in 0700 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
West Seneca 2.5 SE 43.1 in 0700 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
Wales 42.0 in 0700 AM 11/19 COOP
Eden 1.4 SSE 41.7 in 0745 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
2 SE West Seneca 40.0 in 0300 AM 11/19 NWS Employee
East Aurora 2.7 SSE 39.2 in 0700 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
1 SSW West Seneca 38.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Amateur Radio
Colden 1.4 NNW 37.8 in 0730 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
Colden 1W 37.8 in 0730 AM 11/19 COOP
1 WNW Alden 34.5 in 0700 AM 11/19 Trained Spotter
Alden 34.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Amateur Radio
3 ENE Holland 33.5 in 1030 AM 11/18 Trained Spotter
1 ESE Sloan 31.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Amateur Radio
1 SE Lackawanna 31.0 in 0700 AM 11/19 Trained Spotter
Buffalo Airport 30.2 in 0700 AM 11/19 Official NWS Obs
2 S Snyder 29.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Public
1 N Cheektowaga 28.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Amateur Radio
Glenwood 1.5 SE 27.0 in 0800 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
Williamsville 3.8 E 26.5 in 0708 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
2 NNW Cheektowaga 26.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Amateur Radio
2 WSW Millgrove 26.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Amateur Radio
1 S Buffalo 26.0 in 0800 AM 11/19 Public
Lancaster 25.5 in 0900 AM 11/19 Trained Spotter
Glenwood 1.0 SE 25.4 in 0700 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
2 SE Lancaster 24.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Amateur Radio
1 N Lancaster 22.0 in 1015 AM 11/19 Public
1 ENE Buffalo 22.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Amateur Radio
2 W Snyder 22.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Public
Cheektowaga 2.4 NW 21.0 in 0901 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
Akron 2.4 S 18.5 in 0800 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
Snyder 0.6 SW 17.3 in 0700 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
1 NW Williamsville 16.4 in 0800 AM 11/19 NWS Employee
2 ESE Harris Hill 15.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Public
Buffalo 1.2 WNW 13.6 in 0900 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
East Amherst 1.3 WSW 10.7 in 0900 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
Kenmore 0.3 ESE 9.4 in 0745 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
East Amherst 1.2 WNW 9.0 in 0915 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
1 ENE Kenmore 9.0 in 0900 AM 11/19 Amateur Radio
Kenmore 0.8 NW 7.6 in 0700 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
Buffalo 3.9 N 7.5 in 0800 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
Amherst 5.4 NNE 6.4 in 0800 AM 11/19 COCORAHS
Tonawanda 3.1 NE 3.3 in 0800 AM 11/19 COCORAHS

While some areas did get some serious snow, my neighborhood (Amherst) got almost none. Here is what we came home to.


And 6 minutes after that photo I had completely cleared the driveway and taken a pee. I felt almost silly using my (Made In California) Manplow; I can't imagine the brutal humiliation my neighbors must have felt using their gas powered snow blowers on such a paltry amount.


After seeing such severe reports on the news, it was kind of weird to come home to basically the amount of snow I would not have found amiss in Xenia (there was some on the ground there when we arrived). I took a closer look at that table and plotted this map to show it better. The bigger the circles, the more snow as reported in the table.


The circle at the very bottom is Hamburg with 73.7 inches. To the northeast of that is Orchard Park in first place with 77.0 inches. As you can see the heavy dumpings were really in the south and, importantly to me, not in the north. Another way to think about it is that the 29k seat University of Buffalo Stadium in Amherst and the 73k seat Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park (where the Bills play) are separated by less than 16 miles, yet in the time period recorded one got six feet of snow more than the other. They moved the Bills game to Detroit; would it have made more sense to move it just down the road? Do people think Buffalo is a wintry place because most of what they see of it are NFL games from a stadium located in the most extreme focus of lake effect snow?

I did manage to barely ski on the scant snow that was in my neighborhood (tore a big hole in my new skis too). Here's me in my backyard yesterday morning on some pretty tenuous snow.


This morning, we went down to see if going south a bit could find some of that much talked about snow. The map shows a marker in Cheektowaga at the Reinstein Nature Preserve. Sure enough there was a decent amount of snow there.


As shown on the map, from nearly nothing on the trails behind my house to at least 18" less than 10 miles away!

I guess if I actually had perfect information I could always go to where the snow was good, sort of like picking the right elevation to get the desired temperature (though note it is completely flat everywhere near me with only one famous exception just off the edge of that map). But since I don't know what the micro-climate is in each neighborhood, it is kind of difficult to balance "too snowy to drive there" and "not enough snow to ski".

I suppose I should be grateful for any kind of snow in these modern times but it seems like the worst of all possibilities to have to suffer the negative effects of a lot of snow but not really get enough snow to do things that require snow! I really would like to live somewhere that has more reliably serious snowfall patterns. But for now, I'll take what I get and enjoy early season skiing when and where I can.