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Ever since the Blizzard of 1977, Buffalonians have been busy explaining to anyone who will listen that our winter weather isn't all that bad. We quote statistics showing that our average snowfall is less than that of Syracuse; that our average temperature is higher than Massena's.

If Old Forge has a heavy snow, we'll trumpet it and imply that the place is not likely to be found again. We'll inform the rest of the nation that we we're not in the "snow belt," which is considerably south of here. When pushed to the wall, we'll even point out that our official weather data is gathered at the airport, which is in Cheektowaga, not Buffalo.

After getting dumped on to the tune of 60 inches in the first two weeks of January, these arguments fall flat. National news coverage of the declared state of emergency, closed schools, assistance from the National Guard, impassable side streets and collapsed roofs made our plight common knowledge to a public already accustomed to equating Buffalo with snow, ice and cold.

I say let's forget about protesting the assumption that Buffalo is a frozen tundra unfit for human habitation. Let's ignore the barbs of late-night TV comics and assorted pundits who find Buffalo an easy target. If our local streets departments continue to deal with such situations effectively, the national news will focus on the solutions instead of the problems.

Even though a recent survey by The News concluded that the Buffalo Streets Department is understaffed and underequipped, people are generally satisfied with its efforts. The nation will eventually realize that we're pretty good at snow removal, and that our citizens are able to go about their business with far less inconvenience than the news coverage would imply.

Whether it's with a six-pack, a good book or a trip to the ski slopes, Buffalonians have long since learned to cope. We know how to drive on accumulations of snow and ice that would discourage motorists in most parts of the country from getting behind the wheel. We seldom have horrendous chain-reaction collisions such as occurred in Detroit.

Of course, a significant economic turnaround in Buffalo would make our image problem disappear, regardless of the weather debate. Instead of fighting a losing battle over media treatment of our weather, we should take full advantage of state and federal economic initiatives now in place, and lobby for more. A viable downtown -- with people actually living, working and shopping there -- would do wonders for our reputation.

May Taylors and the proposed apartments in the Berger building succeed. May plans for the convention center, waterfront and zoo go forward. Combining these works-in-progress with our already well-known cultural institutions, we should have more than enough positives going for us to counter the inevitable weather put-downs.

The recent opening of the Andrews Theater is a welcome addition to our Theater District, as is the expansion under way at Shea's. The restoration of the Darwin Martin complex, while agonizingly slow, now seems assured.

Let's not forget our new airport terminal, which provides an impressive entry to Buffalo, and Marine Midland Arena, already a major venue for touring big-name entertainers. There's more to being a big-league city than just the Bills and Sabres, although they are a great help.

Don't bet on all of the proposed projects getting beyond the drawing board. But if even half are seen to completion, we'll be far enough ahead of the game to ignore all the bad Buffalo jokes.

RICHARD A. KAMPRATH, a native of Buffalo, is now retired and living in the Town of Tonawanda.
For writer guidelines for columns appearing in this space, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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