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Blizzard tales: What our readers remember

More than 150 readers answered our request to email their stories about the Blizzard of '77, telling us tales of harrowing rides home, the kindness of strangers, blizzard babies and "Roots."

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"Bad omen," I thought to myself.

I chose Jan. 28 because it was my beloved father's birthday; as a 21-year-old bride-to-be, it was perfect. Our marriage was to commence at Our Lady of Sacred Heart Church on Abbott Road, with the reception at the Knights of Columbus on Old Transit Road, both in Orchard Park.

Traveling to the K of C to prepare for the reception, I remember a light snowfall that quickly turned into the Blizzard of '77. Needless to say, we never made it to the church on Jan. 28.

Our reception hall was turned into emergency housing for stranded drivers and snowmobilers. Thankfully we had all the food and beverage we could have ever needed. It turned into a party!

The next morning, local farmers showed up with tractors to excavate the mountains of snow. We were married on Jan. 29, 1977, and as we are ready to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, with three wonderful children and two beautiful grandchildren. It turns out Mother Nature bore a good omen in disguise.

– Kim and Paul Steger, Coldspring

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The Blizzard of '77: Buffalo's storm for the ages

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I shall never forget that storm! I was working at Valentines Restaurant on the corner of Niagara Street across from City Hall. It was a local hotspot for city politicians where policy was often discussed and "created"! I worked there many years and knew them all by name.

The storm started late afternoon; the restaurant was crowded, as usual. We were so accustomed to winter weather that we did not pay enough attention to what was brewing. When evening approached, we were hit with the fact that we were not going anywhere.

The owners, Henry Gorino and Joseph Sheen, stepped up and made what could have been a long siege fun. They fed everyone, and we gathered around the old player piano. Spirits were high and alcohol flowed.

The next day we "roped" in and made a human chain  across the street to the Statler Hotel, where we were also treated well. 2½  days later, we began to head home, carpooling with strangers. It was a scary time, but this City of Good Neighbors made it memorable.

– Delores Pelosi, Buffalo

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The Blizzard of '77 was a life event that you never forget. At the time, my husband and I were running a dairy farm in Lancaster. Cows don't care what the weather is like – they need to be milked at least twice a day, blizzard or no blizzard. Luckily, we never lost electricity (milking 35 cows by hand is not for the faint of heart). Unfortunately, the milk truck could not get to the farm for five days to pick up our milk, so we had to dump at least two tons of milk. We called a radio station to say we would give away milk to anyone who could reach the farm.

A few days after the storm, we received a call from CBS News. They wanted to interview a farmer about how the storm affected us. They arrived on snowmobiles from the airport. (How they knew about us or where they got the snowmobiles remains a mystery to this day.) We made the CBS Nightly News two nights in a row.

– JoAnne and Bill Long, Clarence

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The day of the blizzard, I was working days – 8 a.m.-5 p.m. – at the fire house at Tupper and Washington streets, as the captain of Ladder 1, also housing Engine 9. Late afternoon, it became very dark and severely windy with heavy snow. My relief could not make it in, so I was stuck there to work another shift.

The fire alarm box was pulled at Carolina and Whitney streets. Ladder 1 and Engine 9 were the first companies to respond. The closest we could get to Carolina and Whitney was three blocks because of the snow and stranded cars.

The battalion chief gave me his portable radio, and I and two firemen walked to the fire alarm box. We could smell smoke but did not see the fire until we turned the corner of Carolina and Whitney, where three 2½-story houses were fully engulfed in flames. The fourth and fifth homes on each side of the fire were also starting to burn.

To my amazement, Engine 9 drove up to the fire with several people pushing the pumper to the hydrant. (This fire went to second and third alarms.)

The first fire hoses went to the sixth and seventh houses and stopped the fire from spreading. Heavy snow on the roofs across the street from the fire helped stop the fire from spreading to them.

The Buffalo Fire Department firemen did a great job this night. It was very cold and windy, and it was snowing hard. Engine 9 was iced in with 12 inches of ice and frozen snow. Ladder 1's rear end broke and was towed to the shop. Other pumpers were lost to the weather as well.

– Philip Morana, Elma

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I remember we had to remove the top pane of glass from our screen door and climb out of it to get out of the house. We had a patio that was 10 feet high in the backyard, and the snow was as high as the patio floor.

I remember having to drive on Route 33 going the wrong direction to rescue someone stranded in the city. It was so surreal. Cars buried every which way. You couldn't tell if there was anyone in them or not.

It was one for the ages, that's for sure.

– Lisa Adam, Sarasota, Fla.

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I spent that Friday night at a restaurant outside of East Aurora at 7901 Seneca St. that is now called American Grille.  There were about 50 people there that night.

We were a stopping point for first responders out on snowmobiles going out to assist people in Elma and the outskirts of East Aurora. A cleaning crew had let all of us in and called the restaurant owners who said "Make yourselves at home," and we did.

We had lots to eat as people were cooking things (some the restaurant food and some of the food from people who had been food shopping and on their way home). We had lots of hot coffee and hot chocolate for the first responders; it was the first night of the TV show "Roots," so we all watched that. It was a very kind and congenial group of people.

In the morning there was a young child, about 5, who was apparently out for the first time after having had the mumps/measles and all he wanted was his Coco Puffs that were out in his parents car. Never heard a peep out of him all night until the morning – pretty cute!

The road back into East Aurora was totally blocked  – a huge piece of equipment from Canada was brought in to clear the road and we got a police escort back into East Aurora by midafternoon on Saturday. It's an experience I will always remember.

- Joal Catt Miller, Orchard Park

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I don't like or follow hockey, but I like excursions. So, on the Friday preceding the Blizzard of '77, I hopped on a bus with my pal Gary Merkel and other patrons of Danny Sansone's Restaurant in South Buffalo and left for Montreal and a Sabres game. The trip was hosted by Brooks Pharmacy in Hamburg and was a fundraiser for the Cantalician Center.

As the blizzard raged on, I phoned my wife, Mary, back in Cheektowaga. She told me that she was trapped in our house with our three boys, ages 6, 7 and 8.

She also was caring for our neighbor's children since the parents operated the Southline Fire Co. ambulance. Their four kids were 5, 6, 7 and 9. In addition was our other neighbor and her two boys, ages 7 and 8. A grand total of two mothers and nine boys all 9 years old and under.

While watching this brood, she also cooked spaghetti and soups for the local volunteers.

Gary and I skipped the game and instead went to the Old Munich Beer Hall and drank some beers. The game ended in a 3-3 tie, so we didn't miss anything.

Meanwhile, we were told we couldn't return to Buffalo until things improved there.

The Queen Elizabeth Hotel set up cots in the Grand Ballroom for our group. The Brooks people also hired a small airplane and flew back to Buffalo. They went to Lakeside Funeral Home, where we left our cars. We had given them our car keys in envelopes with our plate numbers and they dug out our cars and started them.

We were finally allowed to return home Tuesday with a State Police escort on the Thruway. We jumped in our cars and drove home. No problem.

When I entered our house, I said to my wife, "What snow? What's the big deal?"  She finally spoke to me again on Saturday.

– Timothy B. O'Shei, Cheektowaga

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After going into labor around 10 a.m., we ventured out to get to Sisters Hospital for the birth of our son. Leaving our car in hopes of finding a home to go to as we walked hand-in-hand and could not even see each other, we were lucky to come upon a small pickup truck which the owner shared with us.

Equally lucky for us, another stranded motorist happened to have a CB radio and was able to contact the Elma Fire Department to make them aware of the situation and our whereabouts.

After being stranded in Elma for about four hours, we were finally picked up by members of the Elma Fire Company and taken to the chief's house. They were  able to get us back to our home in East Aurora that evening.

At about 10:00 that night, we called my doctor, who suggested we call the East Aurora Police Department as the weather was not going to permit us to get to the hospital and I was in very active labor. The East Aurora Fire Department was able to get to the home of Dr. Daniel Marinello, who lived in the village, and brought him to our home, also in the village.

At 11:12 p.m. that evening, our son Brennen Jeffrey Toy was born at our home, becoming East Aurora's first official "blizzard baby."

We can never thank all of those who assisted in this day enough, as without all of their help, the outcome may have been very different. And 40 years later, on Jan. 28, each of his birthday cards starts out with "to our blizzard baby." A day we will never forget.

– Donald & Cynthia Toy, East Aurora

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In 1977, I was a senior at Williamsville South High School. I also worked part time as a warehouse clerk at Century Housewares, a household products catalogue store located just west of Main Street and Transit Road in Clarence. In those days, South had an open campus policy for seniors, which allowed us to leave school between and after classes.

On Jan. 28, 1977, I was called into work in the early afternoon to help unload a huge truck filled with new merchandise. We didn't have Uber in 1977, but I was fortunate to have very accommodating parents. My mom picked me up at school that day and dropped me off at work. My dad was supposed to drive me home, but as the snow continued to fall it soon became apparent that would be impossible.

If you had to be stranded in a snowstorm, this was definitely not the worst place.

We ordered takeout from the Wishing Well restaurant next door and ate the food off real kitchen china that we pulled from the stockroom.

We also commandeered sleeping bags and entertained ourselves with a full array of new toys and board games courtesy of Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers.

The showroom was our domain as well, providing us with the latest electronic devices, including Atari/Pong and air hockey.

It wasn't until late morning Saturday  that my dad was able to retrieve me by following behind a snowplow in his tugboat-like Chrysler New Yorker. My most vivid memory of the ride home was the intersection of Main and Transit, where the drifts were as high as the traffic light.

– Daniel Rosamilia, Chicago

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On Day One of the blizzard, I went from Delaware Avenue and got as far as The Buffalo News building, and my car could not go further.

We heard there were TVs in the Donovan Office Building just across the street, so I went there and found a courtroom and watched an episode of "Roots," which was on that week.

Then I spent a fairly comfortable night sleeping on the carpet in the courtroom. I had been crocheting an afghan, and that came in handy for a pillow. The atmosphere in both the News building and the Donovan Building was fun. There were lots of stranded people at the Aud, and people were going back and forth between the buildings looking for food.

On the third day, my brother braved the driving bans to come and pick me up from Blasdell; however, he was first going to try to find my car, which had been towed to a parking lot nearby. He searched for several hours and no luck. What I had forgotten to tell him was that I had recently had my car painted from light blue to white. Needless to say he never found it.

- Marilyn Wilson, Hamburg

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I drove a truck delivering food to local downtown restaurants.

At the beginning of the storm, my employer urged me to continue my route. The businesses began to close so I was informed to return to base on Niagara Street.

Travel slowed to a crawl. I pushed a taxi with his fare, a little old lady who just got out of the hospital to the curb with my truck took them into my cab and attempted to get them to a safe place.

We got as far as Columbus Hospital, and eventually had to enter since the blizzard was at its height and traffic was at a standstill. We were stranded there along with hundreds of other people.

After the first day with an unexpected mass of "guests," the hospital began to run out of food so I "broke into" my truck and hauled in a number of 10-pound spaghetti boxes along with about 10 large restaurant-sized tomato sauce cases and 5-pound loaves of cheese, along with various juices and other drinks.

The hospital staff, patients, and stranded motorists feasted for several days on this until things cleared up and I could get home to my wife and 5-month-old son.

– Dennis Lindell, Boston

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I was an adventurous kid from New Jersey in my second semester at Fredonia State. I remember asking myself "Who could live here!?" as I walked briskly between dorms huddling from the snow, wind and freezing cold. Classes were canceled, but the dorm parties weren't.

I met a beautiful senior named Joanne from a town called Lockport at our party. Forty years later, we've been happily married for 33 years, with a son, a grandson and a beautiful home in Clarence. I've answered my own question!

– Wayne LeVan, Clarence

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I was stuck at Niagara Machine & Tool Works on Northland Avenue for three days. A few men tried to get out at 11 a.m. Friday and came back with a look of terror in their eyes, having never seen the likes of that blizzard. Some of us were taken in by a fellow worker who lived in the neighborhood. Most others found a corner in the plant to call their own and ate meals brought in by snowmobile.

The poor tavern owner across the street was cleaned out of all but the nastiest bottom-shelf booze.

On the third day, we commandeered a farm-type tractor from the plant to pull cars out of huge drifts. Some guys were smart enough to put blankets over their car engines to keep the compartment from getting completely stuffed with wind-driven packed snow.

– Kevin O'Connor, North Tonawanda

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I was 11 years old at the time of the blizzard, growing up in Williamsville. As far as I was concerned, the blizzard was the greatest event ever recorded in human history.

I was an adult before I was aware of the loss of life or the peril that anybody faced. To me, it was a gift: a full week off from school.

There was an absurd amount of snow. It had drifted halfway up the telephone pole in the backyard. Our garage, like many others, had a Bicentennial theme painted on it, and it was buried.

I jumped off the back porch into a fantastically large and inviting snowbank that no kid could have resisted and immediately became stuck up to my hips. My dad had to yank me out, leaving my boots behind. Apparently, he didn't think it was as great an idea as I did. He was wrong. It was an awesome idea.

– David Breth, Orchard Park

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I took the bus that Friday morning to my job at Buffalo City Hall. Paychecks came early that day, and I went out on my morning break to cash my check at the bank. I recall that the sun was shining and it felt relatively warm considering all the snow we already had that winter. Soon afterward, the skies darkened and the wind kicked up from over the lake.

With that wind came the snow, blowing horizontally through the streets of downtown. Mayor Makowski closed City Hall and advised everyone to stay within the safety of the building and ride the storm out there.

I decided I was going to get home no matter what. I remember crossing Niagara Square not being able to see anything and almost getting knocked down from that very cold, blowing wind. Just then, I recognized the federal courthouse to my right and sought shelter there.

While standing in the vestibule of the courthouse with fellow refugees from the storm, I spotted a No. 4 bus in front of the building. Instinctively, I hopped on and reasoned that if the bus got stuck I could manage to walk the rest of the way to my home on Warren Avenue. At least I would be relatively warm and dry – and was, in fact, as that bus somehow inched its way down Broadway. What was usually a 12-minute ride turned out to be three hours long.

While trudging through the snow and wind the 200 yards or so from the bus stop to my house, I will always remember the dark skies, the sting of the cold on my face, the whiteouts and that menacing sound of the wind as it whistled through the homes and trees on my street.

– Daniel Glowacki, Hamburg

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I was working at Lockport Memorial Hospital on the Friday that the Blizzard of '77 started.  My office was located in the emergency room area. During the late morning, one of the nurses advised me to take a look outside. I opened the ER door and was amazed at what I saw. The snow was dropping so intensely that it looked like thick fog. I could not see anything!

The night staff could not get in and the day staff could not get out. The staff that was there had to work the floors and do everything else for several days. I slept on an X-ray table for several nights.

It was very difficult for emergency equipment to get in or out, so we were sending and getting things by snowmobiles! People came together and cared for one another. Everybody shared and cared. It forced people to stop and concentrate on family, friends and neighbors. That storm humbled the attitudes of many for years to come.

– Beth Jennings, Wisconsin

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I remember mountains of snow. It started to pile up in January and turned sidewalks into hills, so you could actually walk along the tops of parking meters and the snow heaps on Elmwood extended several feet into the road. Then the blizzard actually hit and side streets like mine (St. James Place) quickly became impassable except by foot.

It didn't matter if there was a driving ban; no car could get down side streets anyway!

Moreover, we were careful not to let the dogs out unattended, because there was a rumor going around that the drifts had gotten so high, the polar bears at the zoo had just walked out of their enclosures and were wandering through Delaware Park, only a couple of blocks away!

Plows couldn't get through, so one night many St. James residents decided we'd just go out and shovel the street clear. It was something to see: people all up and down the entire block, shoveling in the dark like gangs in a mine! I wonder if any shoveled incredibly fast that night, with an eye out for bears?

– Heather Anderson, Buffalo

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As a 17-year-old living on Leroy Street in Buffalo, our family of eight was more than getting on each other's nerves. The storm had just ended when there was a knock at the door. It was our neighbor, who asked if I would be interested in working for a few hours to help him tow cars out of the streets and rights of way so emergency vehicles could get through.

We were walking on top of cars that were buried. My job was to dig a hole so I could crawl under the cars to put the tow hooks in the right place so we could tow them to a designated parking lot. Those few hours turned into 72 straight hours.

– Jeff E. Andres, Miami

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I spent the Blizzard of '77 at my girlfriend's house, which would have been fine – except I had just wrecked her father's car.

Norm, the father, had asked me to drive him to work at the Super Duper market across from UB's South Campus, then bring the car back to their house in Hamburg.

Unfortunately, on the way back to Hamburg, I spun out on the Thruway, striking a snow pile on the median, then bouncing back across three lanes of traffic to the right berm. Fortunately, no other car was involved, and there didn't seem to be any damage to the car. Unfortunately, I'd thrown a coolant line off the transmission. About a mile later, the car died.

The tow truck driver took me back to the house in Hamburg, where I was stuck with my girlfriend and her mother for seven days while her dad was stuck at Super Duper.

I spent a lot of time shoveling their walk, trying to make myself invisible while we waited for the verdict on the car ($700 for a new transmission) and the buses to start running so I could get home to the city.

– George Needham, Columbus, Ohio

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My husband and I were living off Broadway not far from the Broadway Market. I was nine months pregnant, due at any time.

We owned a Chevy Chevette, which was totally buried in snow in front of our house. We were worried I would go into labor and not be able to get to the hospital, so my husband and six of his friends dug the car out and carried it to Memorial Drive. It was one of a few streets that was made accessible, even though there was a driving ban.

We walked to the Broadway Market to buy whatever food was left. The snow was up to our waists. We bought milk from a truck parked in the middle of Broadway.

Five days later, I went into labor and we walked in waist-high snow – stopping for labor pains along the way – to our car parked on Memorial Drive. My husband helped me and my suitcase into the car, said a prayer and drove to Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.

The driving ban was still on, so it was just us, police and emergency vehicles on the road. To our surprise, we were not stopped, and two hours later arrived at the hospital.

It's a story we have told our son every year, and this year will make his 40th birthday even more special. Happy Birthday, Eli!

– Madalyn Mayer, Depew

...

I was working at Lockport Memorial Hospital on the Friday that the “Blizzard of ‘77” started. My office was located in the emergency room area.

During the late morning, one of the nurses advised me to take a look outside. I opened the E.R. door and was amazed at what I saw. The snow was dropping so intensely that it looked like thick fog. I could not see anything! The night staff could not get in and the day staff could not get out.

The staff that was there had to work the floors and do everything else for several days.I slept on an X-ray table for several nights. It was very difficult for emergency equipment to get in or out, so we were sending and getting things by snowmobiles! People came together and cared for one another. Everybody shared and cared.

It forced people to stop and concentrate on family, friends, and neighbors. That storm humbled the attitudes of many for years to come.

For many who lived and survived that storm, it created a special appreciation for the small things that most of us take for granted day. The Blizzard of ‘77 was a game-changer that will never be forgotten.

– Beth Jennings, Wisconsin

...

I remember mountains of snow. It started to pile up in January and turned sidewalks into hills, so you could actually walk along the tops of parking meters and the snow heaps on Elmwood extended several feet into the road. Then the blizzard actually hit and side streets like mine (St. James Place) quickly became impassible except by foot. It didn’t matter if there was a driving ban; no car could get down the side streets anyway!

Moreover, we were careful not to let the dogs out unattended, because there was a rumor going around that the drifts had gotten so high, the polar bears at the zoo had just walked out of their enclosures and were wandering through Delaware Park, only a couple of blocks away! Plows couldn’t get through, so one night many St. James residents decided we’d just go out and shovel the street clear.

It was something to see: people all up and down the entire block, shoveling in the dark like gangs in a mine! I wonder if any shoveled incredibly fast that night, with an eye out for bears?

– Heather Anderson, Buffalo

...

I spent the Blizzard of ‘77 at my girlfriend’s house, which would have been fine – except I had just wrecked her father’s car.

Norm, the father, had asked me to drive him to work at the Super Duper market across from UB’s South Campus, then bring the car back to their house in Hamburg. Unfortunately, on the way back to Hamburg, I spun out on the Thruway, striking a snow pile on the median, then bouncing back across three lanes of traffic to the right berm.

Fortunately, no other car was involved, and there didn’t seem to be any damage to the car. Unfortunately, I’d thrown a coolant line off the transmission.

About a mile later, the car died. The tow truck driver took me back to the house in Hamburg, where I was stuck with my girlfriend and her mother for seven days while her dad was stuck at Super Duper, all due to the driving ban. I spent a lot of time shoveling their walk, trying to make myself invisible while we waited for the verdict on the car ($700 for a new transmission) and the buses to start running so I could get home to the city.

- George Needham, Columbus, Ohio

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As a 17-year-old living on Leroy Street in Buffalo, our family of eight was more than getting on each other’s nerves. The storm had just ended when there was a knock at the door. It was our neighbor, who said he was a tow truck owner/operator and asked if I would be interested in working for a few hours to help him tow cars out of the streets and rights of way so emergency vehicles could get through.

We were walking on top of the cars that were buried. My job was to dig a hole so that I could crawl under the cars to put the tow hooks in the right place so that we could tow them to a designated parking lot.
Those few hours turned into 72 straight hours.

– Jeff E. Andres, Miami

...

On Jan. 27, 1977, the dismissal bell echoed from the halls of Anna Merritt Elementary School. My little sister Becky and I headed out into the bitter cold toward home. The gusty winds cut right through our fur-trimmed suede coats, biting our soft little faces. It hurt to breathe and we could hardly see anything past the white whirling snow before our eyes.

Finally arriving home, Mom helped us into some dry clothes. She said that the blizzard could last several days and we would be staying with Grandpa and Grandma Sciuto, who lived nearby. Dad was stranded at Niagara University and all schools were closed for the entire week.

While the blizzard raged outside, Grandma kept us warm inside with her homemade chicken soup. Each bowl was full of tender chicken, tiny pastina and topped with fresh grated Romano cheese. We were comfy cozy.

In the evening, the family gathered around the console television eagerly looking forward to the Donny & Marie Show. Television had only three network channels back then, but primetime programing was wonderful.

After seven days, the storm finally reached an end and Dad come home. Later that spring, the snow drifts that had reached the rooftops still remained heaps of snow on the ground.

– Lori Jagow, Amherst

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