The unexpected snowstorm that pummeled the City of Buffalo and its suburbs Thursday and early Friday morning forced teens to cope with no electricity or heat and downed trees in streets and yards. It also gave new meaning to the snow day -- with no fun, no heat, and above all, no hot chocolate.
As snow began to fall Thursday, some teenagers detected the menace of things to come. "I was leaving school in my toga -- it was toga day on Thursday -- and it had started to snow ninth period so I got a picture of my friends and I in the snow," said Julia Atkins, a senior at Amherst High School. "When I was driving home, it was really slick."
"I was at a volleyball game at Williamsville North," said Lancaster junior Kelly Jones. "At the end of the game, the lights went out, but the backup generator went on."
Teens woke up Friday morning to find as much as two feet of heavy snow had fallen in some areas, causing trees which still held leaves to keel over or snap during the night. Many fell on and disrupted power lines, allowing an ominous black hole to swallow most of Western New York.
Amherst was one of the hardest-hit areas. At Amherst Middle School a tree went through a window, Smallwood Elementary School had five feet of flooding, and at Amherst High School a tree fell and knocked down the tennis court fence. "I went to the high school to take pictures for the yearbook and I was like, 'This can't be happening,'" Julia said.
"A lot of trees were down in my backyard and it looked like a war was going on," said Depew junior Rachel Bracikowski.
On Buffalo's East Side, whole neighborhoods like 15-year-old Nailah Sinclair's were turned to a mess of "tangled trees" and houses where the "roof is leaking."
With hundreds of thousands of homes without power, there was a mad rush for generators. Survival of the fittest at its prime. "Luckily, Wegman's was open!" Julia said. "Because of our generator, we were able to microwave things. We were able to run the power on one of our TVs so we could watch the Sabres game!"
Ali Stewart, a senior at Frontier High School, had no power from Friday morning until Sunday afternoon. She said her family waited until the driving ban was lifted in Hamburg to go out and purchase a generator. Canisius High School student Ian Toner, 16, who lives in Williamsville, said his dad eventually went to Syracuse to get a generator to power the sump pump at their home on Lanoche Court. "My family had a generator," said Williamsville North senior Shelia Joshi. "So we never really had a problem at all."
To many, it seemed like the end of the world as families resorted to primal ways of life. "We've basically been under candlelight," Julia Atkins said. She groaned when she mentioned that she hadn't taken a shower in two days.
In Lancaster, Kelly Jones' family focused on keeping warm. "We have a lot of clothes in the house -- hats, gloves. We slept with a lot of blankets."
Williamsville North sophomore Jake Erenstoft said: "I have a fireplace in family room, and ever since the blackout my whole family has basically been living in there."
Cheektowaga senior Zachary Rappold lost power Thursday around 7 p.m. and finally got it back late Monday night. "I had no idea what was going on because I had no TV or radio, all I knew was hearsay. I didn't even recognize my own street Friday morning. Even now that the snow has melted, it looks like a jungle."
"It's cold!" says Amherst junior Katy Tirella. "What else can I say?" Her mother, Chris, said: "All of our neighbors have been taking wonderful care of us ... (They've been) bringing us hot food, offered us a kerosene heater, a generator. This is a great place to be in a bad situation."
Nardin senior Natalie Lewis said her home on Clarendon Place in Buffalo lost power very early Friday morning and it didn't come back on until Monday night. "Our backyard was pretty much a war zone. We walked up and down the street to see what was left of the trees. It was really sad," she said. Neighbors on the street came together to help clean up. "We only had one chain saw for the whole street, so the man who owned it went around to everyone's houses," she said.
Natalie and her family stayed in their cold, dark house. "It was kind of like an adventure," she said. "We had to use candles and flashlights, and it was pretty cold so we piled on the blankets at night and wrapped ourselves in down comforters to stay warm."
In North Buffalo, isolated teens like Ayla Axeloons, 15, "text-messaged or called friends" to keep in contact making sure everyone was safe. Some teens finished up homework or surfed the Net waiting for others to get their power back on.
On Buffalo's West Side, Angelica Rivera, 17, and sister Liz, 15, waited for family members and loved ones to return home, or cleaned up as their neighbors helped to remove fallen tree limbs from streets. Amherst junior Katie Philipps has been spending her time helping neighbors and family. "We went around Thursday checking on our grandparents, our elderly aunt and uncle, and helped people who were stuck in the snow. We've spent (Sunday and Monday) cleaning up our yard and our neighbors' yards."
Canisius High student Nick Smeeding, 15, said that many of his friends who did not have power came over to his house on Chatham Avenue, which did. And on Friday, Smeeding said that he and his friends went "urban skiing" which he says involves grinding rails in the city on skis.
One reason many teenagers aren't so thrilled about the sudden snow days -- some districts including Amherst, Clarence, Williamsville, and Cheektowaga will not have school all week -- is that several Homecomings and other events had been scheduled.
At Amherst, "Pep band, the pep rally, and homecoming were all canceled. It really sucks," Julia said. "It had better be rescheduled!" junior Alie Bauer insisted. Student Council Adviser Kelly Nunn insists that every effort is being made to reschedule the class bleacher decorating, the pep rally, the football game, and the semi-formal dance "as long as student interest is still there, which I think it will be."
Clarence junior Jennifer Back noted: "The storm ruined our entire homecoming, we had a two-day spirit week, everything was canceled, our powderpuff game, our football game, our parade and our dance."
Cheektowaga Central had scheduled homecoming this week, but with school closed all week, senior class president Tiffany Dziadaszek worries it could be canceled. "I would be upset because it's our senior year, we put a lot of work into things like the hallway and the dance and spirit week is very memorable and it would be unfortunate if we couldn't have one." Homecoming was not the only letdown. Saturday's SATs and PSATs were canceled. At Nardin, seniors must turn in all college applications by Thanksgiving for their guidance counselor to review. For many seniors, this was their last chance to take the SAT and get the new scores to the colleges. "For girls who took SAT classes over the summer to prepare for this one, it was especially frustrating," said senior Natalie Lewis.
The Clarence school district canceled a number of trips including the annual Quebec and Washington, D.C., trips for eighth graders and two New York City trips for the high school Drama Club and cross-country team. Eighth grader Nicolle Eagan said: "I was so excited to go to Quebec, but I was very disappointed that the trip was canceled because of the weather."
The Orchard Park High School marching band canceled their trip to Ohio, where they were to compete and spend a day in Cedar Point. "Even though we were going out of state, the trip was still canceled," said senior Dylan Fulater.
Despite the disappointments, teens appreciate the way their beloved city came together during the crisis. Noah Garland, a senior at Williamsville South High School, observed, "It's a tough time for everyone, but neighbors are helping each other out and encouraging each other."
NeXt correspondents Alex Gilewicz, LeShante Garris, Paige Hazzan, Angela Hejna, Kristen Pembleton, Allison Sirica and Jason Silverstein contributed to this story.