In the days leading up to the deadliest snow storm in modern New York history, the state government was fixated on a special session of the Assembly and Senate, at which – with the governor’s approval – legislators were giving themselves a 29% pay raise, increasing their salary to the highest in the nation.
That was on Thursday.
The forecasters had been warning about the storm since Sunday. It was going to rain on Thursday, the temperature would drop dramatically on Friday morning, creating a flash freeze, and there would follow at least 24 hours of bitter cold and near-hurricane force winds. Winds which would blow the long length of Lake Erie and create a snow plume that would bury Buffalo and points northeast.
That’s what the forecasters said. On every channel, starting on Sunday.
And it wasn’t just the TV meteorologists – it was the Buffalo office of the National Weather Service. On Tuesday, it issued its first public alert about the storm expected to hit on Friday and Saturday. By Wednesday and Thursday, the Weather Service was almost shouting, describing the storm as a “once-in-a-generation” event and specifying, “travel will be difficult to impossible on Friday through much of the Christmas weekend.”
The federal forecasters also alerted, “At #BUF, we expect blizzard conditions for ~30 hrs, with peak winds ~70 mph. Don’t focus on snow totals. Power outages + stranded cold travelers are higher impacts.”
The warning was deadly accurate. Thus far, the fatalities of the Blizzard of ’22 have largely been people stranded and frozen to death in their cars or stuck powerless and freezing in their homes.
That was the specific warning on Thursday. One in a week-long chain of consistent and ultimately astoundingly accurate predictions that made this deadly storm the best forecasted major weather event of our lifetimes.
And yet the governor seems to have largely ignored the warnings and made only token and ineffective preparations. Sure, she held her self-aggrandizing press conferences, in the embroidered-jacket costume, ultimately affecting an embroidered cap to show that she was serious. But the timeline shows the state government was far more interested in politicians’ raises than it was in people’s safety.
The TV forecast came out on Sunday, The Buffalo and Binghamton offices of the National Weather Service got loud and specific on Tuesday. The alarms from the feds and the TV forecasters intensified with every passing day. The rain began on Thursday, the flash freeze, windchills of 20 below and snow pummeling of Buffalo began in middle of the day on Friday, and the people died Friday night into Saturday.
The conditions were horrific.
Motorists – who the governor later chided as going out for a six-pack of beer – were stranded, and as their cars failed or tanks emptied they literally froze to death, behind the wheel or in desperate attempts to find shelter. Local first responders were almost immediately overwhelmed. Short staffed and under equipped, the police and ambulance services were immediately out of the game. That left the fire service, in Buffalo and suburban communities. Equipment quickly foundered and firefighters abandoned it in the streets, hiking through the blizzard to answer medical calls and find life-saving shelter for themselves, sometimes literally carrying patients with them.
That was Friday night, the night the city and the lives were lost.
The next day, Saturday, in the middle of the day, the governor called up 50 National Guardsmen.
The day after that, Sunday, she called up an additional 200.
No Guardsmen were prepositioned before the storm, and none were sent at all until 24 hours after the blizzard had begun and the victims were already dead.
The power companies had been prepositioning men and equipment all week. The governor hadn’t.
The New York Army National Guard has more than 20,000 soldiers and hundreds of big, powerful military vehicles designed to operate in every type of weather and condition. There is no indication that any of that was brought to bear before or during the storm.
Yet after the storm the governor – costumed in her embroidered jacket and hat – boasted of how ready she had been, with cots and fuel and MREs, and assured the people that their state government had done everything it could.
But that’s not true.
The governor failed, the state of New York failed, and people died.
The Blizzard of ’77 took us by surprise, and people died in their cars and homes. The Blizzard of ’22 was forecast with precision a week before it struck, and yet more people died in their cars and homes.
In part because the state government was focused on its pay raise, and in part because of a stunning executive incompetence, the governor failed to make the preparations that could have made a difference, and people died.
And I only bring it up because no one else will.