First Snowstorm on the Niagara Frontier

(This column was first published in the December 4, 2000 Buffalo News.)

    It was only a day or two after Veteran's Day (still Armistice Day to me) when my wife remarked, "Our first snowstorm is late this year."

    "Wait a minute, Doris" I responded. "We don't very often have a storm before Thanksgiving." And of course I added something about how a native of Alabama would exaggerate how bad it is in the north even after 35 winters here.

    Like most of us on the Niagara Frontier, I am irritated by those stories that exaggerate our local weather. My least favorite are the national weather commentators who make comments like: "It didn't even snow in Buffalo yesterday." On the other hand I enjoy the contradictory attitude of being proud of our weather extremes. Our most famous, by the way, is the subject of a History Channel "Wrath of God" series episode to be aired tomorrow (December 5) at 9:00 p.m. It will retell the story of the Blizzard of '77. We'll be able to compare it to our two-foot storm of November 20th this year.

    In any case to respond to Doris's claim I contacted my friend Tom Niziol at Buffalo's National Weather Service Office. As usual, Tom provided me much interesting data about our earliest seasonal snowstorms. He started with some averages over the years of weather bureau records. First trace of snow: October 24. First measurable snow: November 8. And first inch of snow: November 17.

    But even that doesn't tell us much. Especially early in the season an inch of snow is usually gone by noon. So working back though the past ten years, here are the dates of first storms dropping at least six inches of snow at the airport:


December 25

7 inches


November 14

9.5 inches


January 11 (1997)

7 inches


November 15

8 inches


January 3 (1995)

11 inches


December 24

14.5 inches


December 11

8.4 inches


December 15

6.4 inches


January 26 (1991)

6.3 inches

You'll notice that no date is given for the 1999-2000 winter. Remarkably, there were NO six-inch falls through the entire winter last year. Miami of the north, indeed.

    And the average of those other nine years suggests that we should not expect our first seasonal storm until December 20, when 8 1/2 inches of snow would fall, just in time for the Winter Solstice.

    The earliest date on that list is November 14. Were there ever earlier storms in the region? Yes, indeed. And here Tom was able to dredge up regional information from his records. He had to go all the way back to 1917 to find an October snowstorm. That wartime year six inches fell on Halloween. These are the only other dates earlier than November 14:

November 2, 1966

24 inches

South Buffalo and Lancaster

November 3, 1991

7 inches

Cheektowaga and Lancaster

November 4, 1951

28 inches

South Buffalo

November 5-6, 1982

12 inches


November 5-8, 1967

28 inches


November 11, 1977

6-9 inches

The Tonawandas and Amherst

He also included these other notable first storms:


November 15, 1995

20 inches


November 20, 1969

20 inches


November 21, 1957

36 inches

Central Erie County

    But the biggest early storm of all occurred on November 23, 1970 when over three feet fell in Batavia, producing drifts up to twelve feet high.

    An observation: Does any of this information support global warming? No but neither does it contradict it. And an update: Confronted with this information, Doris's immediate response was, "Our first snowstorm WAS late this year, wasn't it."-- Gerry Rising