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My View: Blizzard of ’77 tested even snow-hardy souls

By Mary Nicotera

The year was 1977. Though 40 years ago, I remember it being a particularly brutal, cold and snowy winter. We had already had quite enough of that frigid and challenging Western New York January.

But on this particular day – Friday, Jan. 28 – I was working at a bank in Orchard Park, right smack in the middle of the notorious Snow Belt.

Having lived, and now working in the Southtowns all my life, I was considered a veteran, snow-hardy soul.

That morning, we were enjoying a brief respite from the weather and the skies were clear. Oddly enough, when we called downtown Buffalo for customer assistance, our head-office colleagues told us of hazardous blizzard conditions they were beginning to witness.

As I recall, this chatter went on for a couple of hours as we tried to figure out why, for once, we were being spared in the Snow Belt.

But then things changed, dramatically. I’ve often described it as a giant sack of flour being poured relentlessly and endlessly on top of us until we were drowning in it. Our cars were quickly buried and irretrievable.

In those days, only a select few had four-wheel drive, and most were big guys with big trucks. Lucky for me, a regular customer had one of those trucks and he offered to take me home to North Boston. Unlucky for me, that guy made the inane decision to put the moves on me en route, in a dangerous, blinding storm! I grabbed his ice scraper, fended him off and literally jumped out of the truck as we approached my driveway. He never came in the bank again.

I felt very fortunate to be one of the relatively few who made it home. Little did I know I’d be stuck there for a week, riveted to WKBW radio as Danny Neaverth helped Western New Yorkers navigate and survive the iconic storm and its aftermath.

Danny was my only connection to life outside our frozen tundra in the Boston Hills. I listened to the many stories of havoc and heroism, knowing that these momentous events would forever cement the Greater Buffalo area’s reputation as the City of Good Neighbors.

The Nicotera house was abuzz with activity, as neighbors and friends hunkered down with us. Dad tacked blankets over the windows to help keep the cold out, and concocted miraculous meals out of whatever we had on hand.

My stepmom somehow managed to keep baking and serving aromatic, delectably warm fresh bread. Thanks to both of them and the Blizzard of ’77, I gained 10 pounds in a week.

Our house normally had a big downward slope in the backyard. The storm flattened the slope, and when things calmed down, that anomaly enticed the kids to make a labyrinth of tunnels in the snow. We were absolutely frozen, but it was fantastic fun.

It’s never good when you don’t have options, and after a week, I was antsy to escape and return to my normal weight. Driving bans went on and off. Every time we thought we were in the clear, another storm front came through.

I finally returned to work after about a week, and then had to leave again due to the weather. I was about halfway home and driving in blinding conditions when I was stopped by an incredulous National Guardsman who boldly told me I was nuts. But it didn’t make sense to turn around since I would face bad driving conditions in both directions. So, he reluctantly let me soldier on through the snowy abyss.

An hour later I was back home in North Boston. And again I was devouring aromatic, delectably warm, fresh bread.

Mary Nicotera, a vice president of M&T Bank, feels fortunate to have survived the blizzard hunkered down with some of her favorite people.
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