People living in Buffalo tell each other that snowfall — however intense and long-lasting– is always better than hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes and wild fires. Because it melts.
As anyone outside of Buffalo with a weather jones knows, in the last 24 hours towns in a region as little as a mile from downtown recorded 50-60-70 inches of snow in 24 hours. The New York State Thruway — in the Woodstock cry of Country Joe MacDonald — “is closed, man,” from the Pennsylvania line to Rochester. Authorities attributed five deaths to the storm, which is expected to continue on and off for another day or two, possibly adding as much as two feet in additional snowfall.
At the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, where the U.S. Weather Service officially records snowfall, 3.9 inches fell. Two to five miles south and east, 25 times as much snow fell.
This is all the result of a phenomenon known as “lake-effect snow.” In short, when strong, cold, westerly winds blow over Lake Erie the moisture collected from the warm [44-degree] lake turns into snow. How much you get depends on the wind’s direction.
As you can see from this picture of downtown Buffalo’s waterfront yesterday, the wall of snow is south of the city limits. What makes this storm extraordinary is that the “snow band” sat in the same spot for 24 hours; hence the buildup for everyone living behind that wall, or south and east of the lake.
This constitutes a crisis for any community and good communications is essential. Political leaders, from Buffalo Mayor Brown to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, learned long ago to get out front fast. Cuomo, at the request of the mayor and county exec, called out the National Guard Tuesday to help remove the snow, free trapped motorists and make sure everyone is as safe as possible.
Media, especially social, television and radio, have kept a drumbeat of information and warnings flowing. Obviously, in the hard-hit areas, travel is restricted and people are staying home from work and school.
But it is a serious situation and while not as widely life-threatening to most as a hurricane or earthquake could be, it’s nothing to take lightly. A 48-year-old man died in his car, which was covered with 10 feet of snow, possibly plowed on top of him. Whether exhaust fumes or lack of oxygen killed him, there are real dangers out there.
Political leaders must step up, put public safety first, and enforce sensible laws — as they have in this case.
One aspect of coping with this storm is that it started around 7 p.m. Monday, when people were home from work and school. Past storms caught people mid-day or middle of the afternoon and offices and schools were crammed with people looking for food and lodging. Also, snow is light and most places have retained power and heat. Thus life’s essentials are present and people just have to wait it out.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.