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Buffalo -- a snowless wonder

It was the rarest of New Year's Day sightings, a warm-weather species seldom seen in these parts after September.

It carries a thin-shafted stick with a clubbed end. It is known to frequently emit squawks of frustration. Its intelligence is uncertain, as it appears to be homo sapien, yet spends hours striking and then chasing a small, round object. It commonly travels in pairs or foursomes. It engages in social chatter, and it is content only when the ball enters a tiny hole in the ground.

Dennis Catalano and Dan DiLapo swear they spotted one Monday in Delaware Park. "I saw a guy tee off," said Catalano. "No lie."

The January golfer. It is the oddest sight in arguably the oddest winter in Buffalo history. The Delaware Park linkster did not show his head Tuesday morning. But the surroundings remained surreal. No speck of snow. Mud puddles under the swing set near the snack stand. Temperatures pushing 40, blue sky and three joggers wearing the most incongruous winter style: shorts.

We are known for blizzards and drifts. We can take it. Since mid-October, there has been nothing to take. Which has, frankly, been easy to take.

The pummeling began and -- so far -- ended with the surprise October snowstorm. It closed schools, decimated trees and killed power. For 11 weeks since, we barely got a scent of snow. The November and December smattering was the third-least in 64 years. December was the fourth-warmest in history. Forecasters predict another two weeks of 40-ish calm.

Shovels stand ignored. Snowblowers sue for neglect. Ski center owners choose between the rosary and the bottle. Plow drivers seek a purpose.

Catalano and DiLapo voiced the majority opinion of a dozen folks interviewed at the park: elation. Call it "Global Warming -- the Upside."

"Pretty soon," cracked Catalano, "people will start coming here from Florida."

He and DiLapo are Buffalo firefighters. They take near-daily laps around Delaware Park. They are midlife fit and job-tough. But sensible. Things are easier when it's 45 and sunny than when it's 20 and blowing.

"There's vitamin D in sunshine," said Catalano, flexing his nutritional muscles. "Just 15 minutes a day helps your mood."

Without snow, life off the job is easier. Life on the job -- for firefighters, for anybody who works outside -- is easier.

"Snow just complicates things with fighting fires," said DiLapo. "Hydrants freeze. You freeze."

Catalano agreed. "The October storm, we're out there cutting limbs off of trees," he said. "It's not fun."

Granted, there is something to be said for a snowstorm, the stuff attacking in horizontal lines off the lake. Stand in the face of it, and you know you're alive. A snow emergency builds communal camaraderie. Nothing matches the beauty of an endless blanket of fresh white.

Then again, it is nice to get a break. Not many of us look to snow-blasted Denver with envy. "We've had enough tough winters in Buffalo," Catalano said. "I don't miss the snow. The blue skies, the sunshine -- it wards off cabin fever."

Skiers aside, there is a lot to like about a snow-delayed winter. We are not exiled indoors. There is no fear of frostbite. The winter coat remains in the attic. You can leave the house without a six-layer coating. You avoid embarrassing -- and, for older folks, dangerous -- pratfalls on ice. Nobody plays bumper cars on unplowed roads. There are no power blackouts or driving whiteouts. No shoveling. Sane heating bills.

Oh, yes, and one more thing: occasional sightings of that odd, squawking warm-weather creature, Golfus Buffalonius.


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