The Blizzard of '22
This massive Christmas Storm that spread across the country and was massively hyped, seemed to pass by most places with less concern than the hype seemed to warrant. But Buffalo, NY was not one of those places. For Buffalo, the Christmas Eve Blizzard of '22 will be remembered for centuries. And I am one of those 'essential' workers who decided to go against the grain, and come into work on this fateful Friday.
We were all very well aware of the predictions. And directives from the higher up's regarding if we were to report to work or not was speculative at best. Most of management had Friday off anyhow, so for those on the ground, who didn't have Friday off, it was a little confusing. For me though, I knew I always have the option to come into work and do my part. Even if my part is just sitting on standby and making sure systems stay up and running. So my plan was always to try to make it into work for this specific storm. I prepared blankets, food, and fueled up in preparation for being stuck at work for a while. However, I really had no clue what I was signing up for.
Now, I am 'Roadwolf' after all. I earned that nick name from tow truck drivers up in Toronto, as being a 'lone wolf' who patrolled the roads helping people out who were stranded in winter storms. So yes, I grew up driving in winter storms. It is something which actually I find exciting and strangely relaxing at times. And yes I do understand the danger inherit in some winter situations and do my best to avoid putting myself in such dangerous situations. That being said, most Buffalo snow events that I experience, save for the somewhat 'normal' 6ft snow dumping's that sometimes hit the Southtowns, I usually pass off as big nothing burgers. Unimpressive or at least just a little tricky to handle, but not horrible.
This however. This Blizzard was like nothing I have ever experienced. 70+ mph winds!
My day started off with a fairly normal commute in on the I-190 along the Niagara River. It was 40 degrees, and rainy. But the wind hadn't started yet. I clocked in at a location which is right beside the Buffalo River. And proceeded to my shop location which is a little further inland, in the downtown Core.
I went about my morning routine, but the storm began to brew. I was pleasantly surprised that eCafe was open. Krystal (or Crystal?) who owns it was shocked to see someone come through the door I think. But she was very happy to make me some fresh yummy food. The eCafe by Seneca is a great place, and I do enjoy frequenting it when I can. I ended up helping out a little bit by shuttling someone around the city, and also responded to a call for some faulty equipment up near Amherst, NY. But since I was going to head out that far, in the already growing wind and snowy conditions, my supervisor asked if I could bring a plow truck out there to see what I could do while I was up there. Sure, I said.
I loaded up with Salt and headed up that way. But as I got farther and Farther North the weather got worse and worse. I was able to accomplish my task, but conditions became dangerous. My windshield was icing up and on top of that visibility was between 20ft and 0ft. Slowly I crept back downtown along Main Street, watching for blobs through the icey window, assuming they were stuck cars. I sometimes found myself well on the other side of the road, only noticing that because I saw street lights a lot closer to my drivers side window than they should of been. There was no way to gauge where in the road one was. Let alone where one was. A coworker actually ended up on the incorrect road. You really couldn't tell. And intersections became like Russian Roulette. Sometimes being completely unable to see the signal light or even realize you were entering an intersection until you were already in it.
Supervisors made the right call and called everyone back. Told us to shelter. And so I did. I am lucky to have a good shop in the depths of an official dispatch center of sorts. Police, and other agencies have a presence in the building, and therefore it is well protected, has a solid backup power system, and most of the comforts of home.
I was working on some radio repairs and monitoring and programming some two-way radio communications devices much of the rest of the day. It was astounding to hear just how bad it was out there. So many stranded and abandoned vehicles all through the city. People still in them. Hours later! I suppose some people aren't really too bright. There was more than enough warning for this storm. I knew having seen what I saw that there was no way I would get into my personal vehicle and attempt to drive anywhere, let alone home in this weather. There is really no excuse for anyone else to be out. And uber or lyft drivers, shame on you.
The conditions are so bad that indeed all plows have been pulled off of the roads. No roads are able to be plowed until visibility on the roads improves. Now with all of the abandoned or stranded vehicles (some of which will likely have dead people in them by the time the visibility improves), these roads likely won't be plowed until well into Christmas Day or beyond.
In any case, a lot of those people got stuck in gridlock or snow, and stranded. Which in turn made it impossible for Buffalo Fire to respond to many calls. But eventually the snow got high enough that even on clear roads, the fire trucks got stuck. Engine 1 ended up getting stuck not far from my location. As seen in the photo, my car is parked in the parking lot and Engine 1 struggles in deep snow a few hundred feet beyond. I trudged out to them a couple times to offer them a warm place to come and warm up if they had to wait it out, but luckily they were able to have another truck come by to rescue them. But they did end up abandoning the Engine right where it was, and it remains there as I write this.
I am going to call it a night now, and get some shuteye. I have food and supplies for about 24 more hours. But I could likely stretch that a little. I am being very frugal with my eating. But the howling of that wind grows into the night. Even as deep inside the building as I am, I still hear the deep rumble of that Tropical Storm force wind. That is for sure a different sensation.
Saturday: Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve started out with some nice warm tea, and a Bagel that Terri had given me a week or so ago that I had found and forgot I stashed in my work bag. It was still in a bag and fresh, and was very yummy with cream cheese. I checked the entrances to ensure that we were still able to get out, and cleared some snow around them.
It was very unusual to not have heard any Fire Department radio chatter all night long. I had the radio on. But nothing. No dispatches. The Fire Department was hunkering down. So were the police. And Buffalo ambulances services (AMR) which at the best of times are spotty, were non existent. I mean sure, who really wants to be a paramedic and deal with drug addicts spitting in your face, and welfare bums using your ambulance for free rides, and complaining of a tummy ache. It gets old, and the incentive really isn't there - and thus it is difficult to find people who want to do that kind of work. But I kind of bet that especially after this Storm, Buffalo Fire will begin to invest in it's own ambulance service.
The night prior, BFD had been transporting some patients and civilians around the city to shelters and hospitals, but in doing so, it put the crew in more danger, and exposed them to more possibility of getting stuck. And indeed some fire crews did get stuck with a patient on board, and at which point, they couldn't abandon their truck and hike to a safe spot because they had a patient with them. So that put everyone at risk.
Because of this, Buffalo Fire said no more transports. People need to shelter in place, and try to stay healthy. There were no emergency services available in Buffalo for the better part of Saturday. Much of the day was spent attempting to get response vehicles unstuck and back in service. Meanwhile calls kept on coming in, but were being dismissed or added to a list to check later.
But at the same time, the National Guard was being brought into Buffalo to assist with rescues, and clearing efforts. Which was good to hear, and I am sure that they made a huge difference. Had the National Guard not been called in, I believe there would of been many more deaths.
In the morning on Saturday one of the camera room technicians from upstairs mentioned that they could see a stranded motorist out back. We would be the closest place of refuge, and so I agreed to go out with one of them and assist in trying to rescue the stranded motorist. After gearing up and heading out there, we found that there were 2 "High-Lift" or "Front end Loaders" or "Payloaders" as various people call them different things. One was stuck, and the other was trying to push it free. If a loader could get stuck, indeed anyone can. The fire truck was still stuck there too.
Kayla was the lady we rescued from the stuck car. She had gotten herself stuck in the same drift that the loader was stuck in, and the drift that originally got the fire truck stuck. Because the conditions were bad, the road was still impassable, and the loaders were pretty close, attempting to manuver. We brought her inside to safety. I ensured she was warm and safe and as comfy as possible while we waited for the conditions to improve. She told me she works at a gas station in downtown Buffalo and that her boss had told her she had to come in, or else she wouldn't have a job any more. So she had to come in even though she had an elderly mother at home with her kids.
Around 10am on Friday, she lost power at her house and the initial wind gusts came in and knocked down a bunch of trees. So her kids had already been stuck at home without her for over 24 hours without heat or electricity. Surely she was anxious to get home, and I was worried about her kids and mom too. But conditions were still very rough for a few hours.
The band then turned North and started hammering North Tonawanda, where I live. But this gave us a little window in Buffalo to assess the situation and maybe see what we could do. The winds were still harsh, but the snow had stopped, so we just had to deal with blowing snow, which allowed us better visibility.
Worried about Kayla's kids, and knowing that DOT plows and snow blowers were out clearing routes, we decided to go and attempt to get Kayla's car free, so she could carry on. We were also concerned that her car was stuck in the middle of an important street and would make clearing that street all that more difficult. We were able to free her car after some work, and get her on her way. She texted me later saying that she made it home and her kids were okay. Yay!
I then attempted to figure out a way out from the parking lot, but the drifts were too high at just the right spots to trap me in there. I did see one route, but it would involve the removal of a 4x4 wooden sign post and a little bit of off roading. I wanted to help my fellow co-workers who were based at a different location. But they had the plows there, and were getting out to clear some routes. I wanted to help them plow, but they said that it was so slow going that they were mostly just using a bobcat with a snowblower on it, and the pickup truck plows were useless. So I decided that it wasn't worth them or I trying to get there, if there was no good equipment for me to use anyhow.
Instead, I monitored the weather. The Blizzard band was supposed to swing back South across Buffalo around 1PM. But it stayed up through Niagara County until about 5-6 PM. John who was out plowing had found a bar which was opened. He went in and got us all some chicken sandwiches, and delivered them to us. He attempted to clear the parking lot while he was there, but it was generally ineffective. And indeed in a few hours all his work was undone. I was watching the radar and noticed the curve int he lake effect band. I radioed the guys and told them that the band was going to be coming back South through Buffalo, and to be aware of that.
When it came back it came back hard. The guys were still out clearing snow but weren't too far from their shelter. They said it was absolutely horrible out there. I agree. The band hung out over Buffalo well into the night before swinging South. Again, as was the case the night before, calls were typically not being dispatched for the Fire Department. That is until around 10PM or so when a structure fire call came out with a full dispach assignment. The call was on Glenwood Ave near Michigan, and crews did have a hard time getting there initially. But the fire did spread quick as well. 16 minutes after the call, the main house was already fully involved, and the 2 exposure houses on either side seemed to have heavy fire conditions based on what I understood from the radio traffic. I do believe that Buffalo fire was able to keep the fire contained do just those three structures.
I was exhausted however, and ended up getting some shuteye. But before I did that, I quickly checked the outside doors again and cleared some more snow before going to sleep. The wind was howling light a freight train much of the night.
Christmas morning started off rough for me. I was sore from having slept in chairs for the past couple nights. I could also tell my body needed my medication which I didn't have. But after some coffee and food, I was cleaned up and ready to face the day. I checked the doors, and things outside seemed calmer than they have been in days. I coordinated with some of the other people in the building, and we made some plans to escape. DOT Confirmed a route for us. Problem was I was still blocked in. I had to move my work van before I could attempt to move my car. And I also had to try to get rid of an old 4x4 wooden sign post that was blocking the best possible exit over a small patch of lawn and sidewalk, both of which were completely wind swept, and clear of any snow accumulation.
I attempted to find a saw at first, but couldn't find one. I then went to bear hug the post and was able to actually slowly work it up and out of the ground. I was surprised. But now, it turns out my work van's battery was dead. I fumbled around with some wires with the intention of giving it a boost from my car, but eventually I got the van going without a boost. I was able to park it in a safe location, and sat in it for a bit running it at high idle for a good 10 minutes or so to juice up the battery.
I then exited the lot with my personal vehicle. I knew a route from me, to home was clear, but the route back to the yard was still questionable. I had heard John was clearing some stuck cars down that way, and I knew Mike was having difficulties leaving as well. Frank was making his way over to a storage building to gather more equipment. I offered to attempt to back track and see how I could help, but again, not much equipment capable of dealing with this heavy snow was available anyhow.
So I continued ahead, scouting out the route for them to be able to get vehicles to one of our fueling stations which was on my way home and on the totally other end of the city. The route given to us by DOT was indeed very clear. I was able to get home and cleared out a spot for my vehicle and also helped some neighbors out. I then threw together a Christmas Roast in the crock pot and went to bed for a good solid sleep.
I was back at work as soon as possible to assist with cleanup and restoration of service.