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David Robinson: Snowstorm highlighted our best

We got blitzed by an epic snowstorm. We hunkered down for days, unable to go anywhere, just waiting it out.

When the snow stopped, we dug ourselves out.

And by the beginning of this week, it was pretty much back to work for most of us.

For all of the photos of trapped cars, mammoth snowbanks and walls of lake-effect snow clouds that were all the rage of social media and newscasts, the enduring image of the storm really isn’t what you saw as you trolled the Internet while the storm raged or tuned into the national news.

The enduring image couldn’t be captured in a single photograph or a video. It was a resilient region brushing off the snow and getting back to work.

All this after places like Hamburg were covered in nearly 7 feet snow – about 9 inches less than we’ve been averaging during the last 10 winters – in just three days.

And yet we were back on our feet in less than a week.

Yes, it sometimes snows a lot in Buffalo. But we can handle it.

“I think it’s impressive to look at an area that can get 5 feet of snow and be back in business five days later,” said David Burney, the chief financial officer at Astronics Corp., which closed its East Aurora factory for two days during the storm. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

Burney had a different perspective. He was traveling and missed the first half of the storm.

“I think the message was positive,” Burney said. “Everybody I spoke with from outside the area was impressed with how we dealt with it.”

That’s what we want the rest of the country to remember.

Indeed, some of us worked from home as the snow piled up. Others came into work last weekend to help make up for the time that was lost during the storm. Still others are putting in extra time this week to help catch up. And in between, many of us pitched in to help dig out our neighbors.

Burney still was able to fly back into town on Thursday, during the middle of the storm’s second round, because the Buffalo Niagara International Airport missed the brunt of the snowfall, along with the entire northern half of Erie County.

Burney figures Astronics’ staff in East Aurora will put in some overtime to catch up for the time they missed, but nothing excessive.

To be sure, the storm reinforced the perception that the Buffalo Niagara region gets a lot of snow. But it also showed how those storms are more of a hiccup that disrupts daily life for a few days, rather than a natural disaster that leaves a wake of destruction that takes months or years to recover from.

The storm shut down Servotronics Inc.’s Elma factory for four days. But once the driving bans were lifted and workers could safely make it to the plant, the motion control equipment and cutlery maker called in production staff for rare weekend shifts to make up for lost time.

“We’re going to add extra hours and work overtime to make sure our customers are satisfied,” said Cari Jaroslawsky, Servotronics’ chief financial officer.

There certainly was some lasting damage. Roofs collapsed on a few dozen businesses, from the Mr. Tire store in Hamburg to Dave’s Market and Christmas Wonderland in Cheektowaga. Farmers in Eden are grappling with barns and greenhouses that buckled during the storm. It will take months – and cost tens of millions – for those businesses to recover from the disruptions.

But that was the exception, rather than the rule.

“It was a relatively short-lived event,” said Richard Deitz, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s regional economist in Buffalo. “Most of the damage that was done likely is not going to be permanent.”

In some ways, the timing of the storm couldn’t have been worse, coming just as the Buffalo Niagara region was starting to get some national attention because of the spurt of new development taking place from the HarborCenter to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the big solar panel factory planned for South Buffalo.

But Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, doesn’t think the storm will erase that.

“All the positive press we have been getting about the turnaround in our economy will not be undone by this storm coverage,” she said. “The fact is, that Buffalo has become a better place to invest in, and investor capital isn’t scared off by a single weather event that won’t do any real infrastructure damage, like a hurricane does.”

“The national media has also done a good job of describing the hit-or-miss aspects of the storm which ultimately is helpful to make people understand how lake-effect works,” Gallagher-Cohen said.

“For us, to be able to say, ‘the Snow Belt is getting a winter’s worth of snow in three days’ puts in perspective that this is an extreme weather event and therefore is not a typical Buffalo winter,” she said.