The Blizzard's Familiar; Only The Color Was Different
10/31/2012 - 05:03
Steve Lipman
Buffalo, 1977: Another year, another storm
Buffalo, 1977: Another year, another storm

The announcements of an approaching storm. The warnings about possible damage. The advice about what to do and not to do.  The panic, and the inevitable been-there-heard-that-I’m staying-put attitude of some people.

To New Yorkers, the advance of Hurricane Sandy from the South last week was a novel experience. How often do hurricanes strike the Big Apple?

As a native of Buffalo, it was familiar territory to me. With a meteorological twist – I grew up in Western New York’s snow belt with snowstorms, sometimes world-class blizzards or the chance thereof, as an ever-present part of life. Shovels and snow days, street-side mounds of the white stuff and reporters on TV delivering their reports dressed in parkas, were as common as the Bills losing big games.

The morning of Jan. 28, 1977 stands out. A blizzard was coming, the weathermen warned. This was “the big one.” Stay home!

Who listened? We’d heard this countless times before. I went to work that Friday. The sky was clear. Then, it wasn’t.

I heard an ominous sound outside my office’s tenth-story window at about 11 a.m. I looked outside and saw … nothing but white. The falling and blowing and whistling snow was so thick I could barely see the building across the street.

We quickly closed the office and left. I accepted a ride from our staff’s middle-aged secretary and her husband, who lived in Buffalo itself, a few miles from my family’s home in a northern suburb. We got no further than the secretary’s home, where I spent Shabbat – the roads were impassible.

That was the highpoint of that winter’s memorable snowfall, which brought a record total of 119.4 inches of the Lake Effect stuff to Western New York.

Everything was shut down.

As editor of Buffalo’s weekly Jewish newspaper, I still had a publication to put out. Working mostly from home, driving along ice-covered, snow-flanked roads, I did reporting on storm-related stories: the rabbi who climbed over a pile of snow to enter his synagogue via an opening above the door, the rabbi who slept in his office, the firehouse that housed a group of stranded yeshiva students from Toronto, the university students who made their way to services at a local Chabad House by forming a hands-holding chain through the blinding snow, the Buffalonians who reached out to make sure their neighbors and fellow congregants were safe.

That week’s edition came out a day late, half its usual size, but it came out.

That’s the lesson you learned growing up in Buffalo – no matter the weather, you go on with life.

That’s what happened here this week. I spoke, during the days before, of and after Sandy, with members of the Jewish community who reached out.

They moved senior citizens from harm’s way, arranged accessible worship services in apartment buildings, provided kosher meals and struggled to keep others’ morale boosted.

The crisis was familiar; I am glad that the kindness it brought was familiar, too.

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