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On this date in 1993: The Northeast blizzard that was the 'granddaddy of 'em all'

This article was originally published March 13, 2017.

A winter storm is bearing down on Western New York — and in a bizarre coincidence, it's coming on the 24th anniversary that a deadly storm buried much of the East Coast.

As Accuweather remembers it:

"The Blizzard of '93 killed more than 300 people and dumped more than 20 inches of snow across a wide corridor of the Appalachians and Northeast. Fierce winds blew snow around into massive drifts.

"Travel and school were shut down for days, including in the major cities like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. More than a foot of snow fell in these cities before snow changed to sleet, while hurricane-force winds battered the Northeast coast."

It was a huge storm elsewhere, but in Buffalo? It had nothing on the Blizzard of '77.

Read The Buffalo News' story from March 14, 1993, for yourself:

By Michael Beebe – News Staff Reporter

A blizzard that raced up the Eastern Seaboard and crippled states from Georgia to New England shut down the Niagara Frontier on Saturday, but lacked the punch of earlier winter storms that gave Buffalo its reputation as the nation’s snow capital.

The Blizzard of 1993 closed roads, emptied store shelves and made Saturday night a good time to stay home, but came nowhere near Buffalo’s infamous Blizzard of 1977 and the lesser but still paralyzing Blizzard of 1985.

“Although the storm that’s generating our weather is a monster, what we’re getting is more like a heavy general snowfall with pretty high winds,” said Dave Save, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo. “People might still remember it in a few years, but not like '77 and '85.”

Forecasters refused to downplay the severity of what is being called the Storm of the Century elsewhere, and there was plenty of evidence of its ferocity in Western New York.

Blowing and drifting snow was so bad that highway superintendents pulled snowplows off the road in the counties of Genesee, Wyoming, Orleans, Livingston, Cattaraugus and Allegany, where drifts of 5 feet were reported.

In Niagara Falls, Mayor Jacob A. Palillo ordered the streets closed at 8 p.m., as did North Tonawanda Mayor James McGinnis an hour later.

“I closed the roads to get the traffic off the streets so we could get the plows out,” Palillo said. “I didn’t want the plows running into any cars.”

Weather forecasters say the storm should be short-lived, and the brunt of it should be over by later today, but high winds will continue to cause problems with blowing and drifting.

“It’s a blizzard, but it’s not a big blizzard,” said Sage of the weather service. “It will be windy, cold and snowy, but it will be over rather quickly.”

Forecasters expect that up to a foot to a foot and a half of snow will have fallen by the storm’s end today.

It is expected to be very windy today, with northwest winds of 20 to 30 mph and snow tapering off to snow showers, with a high of 10 to 15 degrees. Tonight’s low should plunge to zero to 5 above.

“This isn’t like something we haven’t seen before,” said James Keane, the Erie County commissioner of emergency services. “We’ll weather it.”

As of late Saturday night, no storm-related fatalities or serious accidents were reported in this area.

“People have been good,” said Keane. “They’ve been staying home and staying off the roads.”

Buffalo and most of Erie County seemed to take less of the storm’s full force than other areas, and the only area where roads were nearly impassable was East Concord.

“We’ve got 53 pieces of equipment out, and they’ll be plowing all night,” said County Executive Gorski.

Buffalo’s snowplows had all main and secondary roads opened, and unlike the Blizzard of ‘85, there was no suggestion from Mayor Griffin that residents should stay home with a six-pack of beer. The Skyway and Ohio Street in Buffalo were closed.

Elsewhere, conditions were so bad that Gov. Cuomo and Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey declared states of emergency.

In the Adirondacks, Lake Placid was bracing for up to two feet of snow and drifts of 5 to 10 feet, and the New York State Thruway was closed from just north of New York City to Depew.

Both Syracuse and Rochester received heavy snow throughout the day, with Syracuse getting 14 inches of snow from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The heavy snowfall, combined with visibility of less than a quarter mile and sustained winds of 35 mph or more, fit the weather service’s definition of a blizzard throughout the Northeast.

In Pennsylvania, where Pittsburgh got nearly two feet of snow Saturday, Casey ordered all state highways closed with the threat of arrest for anyone not on an emergency trip.

The Erie, Pa., national weather service office issued a bulletin at 2:30 p.m. that could go down in the history of a bureau not known for its mirth.

“We realize that this will perhaps be the most we will ever forecast in our careers, truly a record breaker,” they said about calling for up to three feet of snow.

The Mount Alton airport near Bradford, Pa., just south of the New York State line, reported 5-foot drifts and 50-mph winds as it shut down.

“When I came to work, my car just kept thumping through these drifts, thump, thump, thump, as it broke past each one,” said Dave Schumacher, an air traffic controller. “I guess I’m here for the night.”

The Greater Buffalo International Airport remained open, but that did little for the hundreds of passengers whose flights never left.

“The airport is open, but the airlines have canceled all the flights,” said Daryl Rasuli, a spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. “We have the airport open in case there’s a plane up there that has to land.”

Metro Bus remained running, except in Niagara County, and Metro Rail continued its runs.

Virtually every public and private event was canceled because of the weather, including a Buffalo Bandits professional lacrosse game with the Detroit Turbos at Memorial Auditorium, today’s Buffalo Sabres game with the Los Angeles Kings at the Aud, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert Saturday at Kleinhan’s and today’s scheduled St. Patrick’s Day Parade downtown.

The weather also brought Buffalo’s homeless inside for the evening, with the City Mission reporting a full house of 75 men, and other shelters full as well.

The Friends of the Night People at 304 Hudson stayed open all night long as an emergency measure.

“The weather is so horrible, we decided to stay open and let people come in, have a cup of soup and get warm,” said Les Barnes, the facility’s manager.

Although the downtown streets were snowswept and empty, the Hyatt Regency Buffalo reported a nearly full house of those stuck in the city for the storm.

“We have a lot of people here,” said the Hyatt’s Karen Guinan. “People who could not get out of the airport, people who couldn’t get where they wanted to go, people who were working downtown today.”

While the blizzard howled outside Saturday night, it didn’t seem to have any effect on Joe Gargano’s customers.

It might have been 15 degrees outside, but inside Gargano’s City Tropics Tanning, a dozen people still showed up to catch rays from his version of the sun.

“For a bad day,” he said, “we had a pretty decent day.”

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