He was the Everyman of the November storm.
Just him, out with a shovel, battling a wall of snow.
If you were paying attention during last November’s storm, sharing in the collective disbelief and frustration and amazement, you know the photo.
The solitary shoveler captured by a Buffalo News photographer in an aerial shot, as he tried to make a path down his driveway during the epic storm that dumped as much as 7 feet of snow in places across the region.
The dramatic photo went around the country – and beyond – landing in publications and on news websites ranging from USA Today to Time. It became a face of the storm.
The News recently tracked down that shoveler, as it sought to mark the six-month anniversary of the double-lake effect storm, by putting out a request on social media for the identity of the snow-shoveler. The photo appeared on the front page Nov. 20, three days into the storm.
The shoveler was Christopher Robinson of Depew, confirmed through social media sleuthing as well as friends, family, a neighbor and his pastor. The News also checked Robinson’s house against maps and the aerial photograph, and it appears to be a match.
Robinson, 27, said he was out shoveling that day for a few reasons. He wanted to get his car out, so he could get back to work as soon as roads became passable.
Oh, and this.
“To be honest, I was kind of bored,” Robinson said.
Those who know him weren’t surprised that he would be out there, shovel in hand, pushing back against the onslaught of snow.
This is a guy who has been a mixed-martial arts fighter. Who plays guitar in the music group at his church. (“We’re kind of a less-talented, religious version of the Beatles,” Robinson said wryly.) Who helps coach wrestling in his spare time.
So in a way, for some who know him, the picture is perfectly appropriate.
“It says that he takes initiative. He’s a go-getter. He gets out there and gets it done,” said the Rev. Kelly L. Negus, pastor of Lancaster Presbyterian Church, where Robinson serves as a trustee and helps lead music during services. Negus said he found out about the photo of Robinson during the aftermath of the storm last November.
Robinson, an employee at a Cheektowaga company where he makes heat exchanging units, moved with his mom to the house in Depew following the death of his father, John S. Robinson Sr., from cancer at age 49 in 2008.
The family – Chris has an older brother, John S. Jr., 29 – had lived in Williamsville and East Amherst. Robinson attended St. Joseph Collegiate Institute for two years, and then Williamsville East High School. Moving to Depew, he said, seemed to move them into an area with more snow.
“We definitely get more snow here,” Robinson said on his front porch on a recent weeknight.
The shoveling photograph was taken Wednesday, Nov. 19, as some residents in Western New York headed out in the middle of a week of the storm to try to dig out a bit around their homes.
Robinson’s friends quickly realized who that unidentified snow shoveler was when they saw the photo posted on social media by Robinson and others.
“It was definitely him,” said Antonio Smith, who has trained with Robinson at his Buffalo gym for 2½ years. “That’s when it went viral.”
But you might ask, why shovel?
“I don’t have a blower,” Robinson explained. “Usually I shovel – or my mom has gotten a plow service.”
How much was out there at that point?
“A lot,” he said. “Maybe 4 feet. I don’t know.”
At the National Weather Service in Buffalo, records show that the snowfall total at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga was 16.9 inches for the storm period that week, a meteorologist said.
In Lancaster, though, snow totals were measured in one place as 74 inches over the course of the storm, the meteorologist said.
Not only did Robinson and his neighbors have to contend with deep snow on their driveways and roofs – but Robinson found himself without much in the way of equipment. At one point during the week’s storms, his main shovel broke, he said, and he had to take up where he left off with a kid-sized shovel.
To cheer himself – and anyone else in the vicinity – Robinson did some shoveling in his old C.J. Spiller jersey and his dad’s snowpants, while playing inspiring music on his phone.
“I’m big into psychology,” he said.
Robinson cleared what he refers to as a “trench,” so that he could work his car out of the driveway. Plows came through the street, later, and he was able to get out. He went back to work on Friday, he said.
His mother, Brigitte Robinson, 57, said she first learned of the photographer’s shot of her son from a neighbor, around the time it happened.
“Our neighbor – I don’t know when the newspaper came out, because we don’t have a copy of it – he came over to Chris in the street, and said, ‘Did you see the Buffalo Evening News? Because you’re on the cover,’ ” she recalled.
Robinson, who graduated from UB in 2011 with a degree in classics, said that before he was sure it was actually him, he enlarged the photo, studied the details, and matched it with other images online.
“I pulled up Google Earth,” Robinson said, laughing. “I didn’t want to be that idiot, saying this picture in the paper is him.”
His mom said it seems apt to her that the picture of the snow-shoveler that went around the world is of her son.
“As I said, once he sets his mind to do a task, he’s the kind of person who sees it through,” she said. “Chris will think logically of how to do it, and set his mind on it.”
But, Robinson said, he might have spoiled things in another way.
“I think I kind of ruined my chances for a snowblower,” he said, with a laugh.