National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Western New York Weather History





Jan 28TH-Feb 1ST…snow began falling in Buffalo about 5am of the 28th. As winds freshened from the south ahead of a sharpening front, about 2 inches of new powder had accumulated on top of the 37 inch snowpack and drifts from previous storms dating back to Christmas. City streets were already clogged so badly that the National Guard was called in even before anyone knew about the coming blizzard. During the morning the temperature rose rapidly from 5 degrees at midnight to 26 degrees at 11am. At 11:35am, the front passed Buffalo Airport. In a short time the visibility dropped from 3/4 mile to zero and the wind shifted and increased from south at 16 mph to southwest at 29 mph with gusts to 49 mph. The temperature fell 26 degrees to zero in just over four hours. The blizzard reached its worst severity during the late afternoon as winds at the airport averaged 46 mph gusting to 69 mph. Gusts of 75 mph were recorded at Niagara Falls airport. An average speed of 46 mph and temperature of minus 1 degree resulted in a wind chill factor of 55 to 60 degrees below zero which probably contributed to the deaths of 29 people--many found frozen in their half-buried cars during the four day ordeal. Blizzard or near blizzard conditions prevailed on and off for the next three days ending about midday February 1st. Daily peak gusts of 51, 52, 58, and 46 mph were recorded on the 29th through the 1st. When the sun finally came out for good on the first of February, its cold light revealed a scene of incredible desolation in the Buffalo area and to a slightly lesser degree in much of the seven western county area. The city as well as most other communities banned traffic for several days. The army was called in from fort Bragg, N.C. to augment the number of national guard troops which had been called before the storm. Some of the eastern suburbs of Buffalo, particularly Lancaster, were buried--to the roof in some cases. President Carter declared seven western counties and two eastern Lake Ontario counties a federal disaster area--the first time ever for a snowstorm in the U.S. The snow at Buffalo airport totaled about 12 inches from January 28th to February 1st but much of this is believed to be from existing snow lying on the frozen surface of Lake Erie being blown into the Buffalo area and redeposited.


A brisk northwest flow of cold air across Lake Ontario produced a lake effect squall. Fifteen inches of snow fell at Montague, eight inches at Rodman, and seven inches as Redfield. At its peak, snow was falling at the rate of four inches per hour.