David Sage never thought he'd see the national big city snowfall record seriously challenged in his lifetime.
Sage, who turned 68 this week, was a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo when the winter of 1976-77 pounded Western New York. Buffalo accumulated a staggering 199.4 inches of snow, still believed to be the record for large cities in the United States, a confluence of events that Sage - now retired - said might happen once every 500 years.
If any city was going to break that record, Sage thought it would be Syracuse, which has twice gone past 190 inches of snow for a winter and averages more snow each winter than any large U.S. city.
Yet as of Saturday morning, Erie, Pa., is closer than anyone's come to catching Buffalo in the 41 years since the record was set.
This week, Erie passed Syracuse for second place on the list of snowiest winters in the modern recorded history of large U.S. cities, according to Pat DeCoursey, who tracks those national records as part of what he calls the Golden Snow Globe competition, a spinoff of the famous Golden Snowball - awarded for snowfall supremacy among large Upstate cities.
DeCoursey's latest numbers put Erie at 192.3, ahead of the two greatest snowfalls in Syracuse history - the 192.1 inches of 1992-93 and the 191.9 of 2000-01.
He said Syracuse is at 151.1 inches for seasonal snowfall, which in any normal year would be monumental. Rochester is at 115.2 and Buffalo 105.4.
Including Erie, those communities are ranked this year as the four snowiest big cities in the nation.
"It's been kind of a shock," said Sage, the retired meteorologist, referring to Erie's record run. Sage said typical winter conditions do not set up that area of Lake Erie shoreline for such an unforgettable snowfall.
The question becomes: Before the snow stops falling this year, and God knows when that will be, can Erie accumulate the 7.2 inches it needs to pass Buffalo, at 199.4 in 1976-77, for the all-time modern large city snowfall record?
Sage, one of the founders of the Golden Snowball, still sees the odd as being against it, but he notes that Erie has piled up 35.8 inches of snow so far in March. In an it-just-won't-stop winter of so many surprises, this is his response about Erie and the record:
"If I were a betting man - and actually, I am a betting man - I'd put down some money that they'll break it," Sage said.
-- Sean Kirst is a columnist for The Buffalo News. Read more of his work in this archive.