Snow: Remediate and Promote

3 Dec

Big lake effect snow events resulting in accumulation measured in feet.  It’s a way of life not just here, but also in Watertown, Rochester, and Syracuse.  Yet for the past couple of years, we’ve had big snow events that have crippled travel around here, leaving motorists stranded for days.

Meanwhile, almost the entire east of the United Kingdom has been pounded by sea-effect snow as unusual Arctic air from Siberia has swooped over the North Sea to snarl movement and commerce throughout that island nation.  It has crippled travel and left people stranded and unable to go to work.

The difference?  Although the UK is at a more northerly latitude, its weather is quite mild thanks to the moist, warmer air blowing in courtesy of the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic. Buffalo is at 42 degrees North, while London is at 51 degrees North – the same latitude as stark and wild Newfoundland and Labrador. Ireland has palm trees – Newfoundland doesn’t.  It is thought that a newly emerging La Nina event is causing the Siberian air to swoop down over western Europe.

It makes sense that England would have a hard time coping with a days-long dump of snow, as “gritters” attempt to keep roads free of ice and plows try to make their way through roads narrower and less straight than those here.  After all, they’re simply not used to extreme winter weather like this in southeastern England.

Buffalo, on the other hand, is almost synonymous with bad snowfall, yet we cope as ineffectively as the British.  I’m not talking about not being able to keep up with snowfall coming down at 2″ per hour – I’m talking about leaving motorists stranded on the region’s main arterial thoroughfare for 24+ hours.  That’s dangerously incompetent.  Then again, so is the fact that it will take the City of Buffalo several days to plow out all of its side streets in just its southern half.  But the Thruway is notoriously inept and a poor value for money.  Its draconian rules about who can and cannot service motorists on that roadway should have long ago been abolished as unfair, and its refusal to modernize its toll collection system is so inexplicable that the only conclusion is that they’re being punitive.

I’m a proponent of the notion that Buffalo needs to stop whining about our weather and embrace it instead.  Swedes, Russians, Canadians, Minnesotans, and residents of other places with big winters make the most of it. Quebec City is known for its winter carnival every February, when the temperature is negative a million.


Efforts like the Winterfest or Santa’s Park or last year’s Powder Keg make the most of our winter weather, but they don’t go far enough.  Since Buffalo is best known for its snow, we should embrace it and market that.  But we won’t, mostly because Frank Lloyd Wright had nothing to do with it and public money can’t be thrown at it.

I have an idea along these lines, which I’ll discuss in a later post.

But in the meantime, it’s stupid that we moan about an integral part of Buffalo life – our messed up weather, and it’s inexcusable that we can’t effectively clear it.  Buffalo Niagara International Airport’s snow remediation facility is the envy of the world.  So should our road crews.

23 Responses to “Snow: Remediate and Promote”

  1. Michael December 3, 2010 at 7:29 am #

    I agree, but perhaps the Thruway Authority go by another name for the moment. Authority seems to be a bit of a misnomer

  2. Jesse December 3, 2010 at 7:59 am #

    If you’re living here and still whining about the weather, it’s on you, not us. I was damned proud to be cruising in my Mustang on Rt 5 yesterday afternoon watching the blackest of skies streaming in off the lake over Tifft. Save a little money and buy a set of good snow tires (Blizzak FTW!) and QUIT WHINING ABOUT IT.

    The Thruway should be sold. Drive down the Dulles Greenway and tell us that private companies can’t manage “public” resources.

  3. Derek J. Punaro December 3, 2010 at 8:32 am #

    I don’t understand how they failed to close the Thruway until 2am. I was on the 190S at 9pm Wednesday and the 90W ramp was already backed up onto the 190. Luckily I opted to go east instead and get off at William, but westbound wasn’t moving at all and eastbound already had stuck traffic and multiple spinouts. That they let traffic continue to queue up on it for 5 more hours I’m sure is what turned it into a clusterlove.

  4. Leo Wilson December 3, 2010 at 9:31 am #

    What’s needed is accountability. If the thruway authority were faced with penalties and/or lost revenues that compare to what contractors that work the Grand Island bridges face, perhaps something would get done a little more efficiently. There were certainly options to having people stuck for hours and hours, like removing the divider in places to allow people to turn around and get to exits, but they weren’t exercised.

    Perhaps this is just another illustration of my cynicism, but what I suspect is that the Thruway Authority will get a funding increase out of this crisis. They were incompetent, so we’ll give them a raise. I wish that wasn’t the way government works in NY.

  5. Mark Poloncarz December 3, 2010 at 9:39 am #

    I don’t know what happened with the Thruway Authority such that this storm turned into such chaos. It is my understanding that one accident in the eastbound lanes turned into a few which then turned the Thruway into a parking lot. Those initial accidents might not have been avoidable, but what certainly was is what happened afterward: people still getting on the Thruway when it obvious that traffic was going nowhere. I will let others deal with this issue but it is more than fair to say that it should never have happened.

    Talking with a county engineer yesterday he said the difficulty with cleaning the streets in the affected areas was threefold: (1) too much snow in a short period of time; (2) the bottom layer was all ice as the bottom layer of the slushy snow became compacted down to a hockey rink; and (3) people who refused to follow the driving bans and were still driving. All of those issues added up to making it very difficult for the departments to clean it up.

    Finally, I want to give a big two thumbs up to the Towns of Amherst & Tonawanda Highway Departments which helped the Village of Depew with its snow cleanup. Now that’s the type of regionalism we all can support. Good job ladies & gentlemen!

  6. BobbyCat December 3, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    The director of the Buf Thruway Mr.Thomas Perichek (sp?) said on the radio that the on-ramps in the free section of the Buf Thruway are difficult to close due to lack of manpower and he is “looking at alternatives”.

    If Mr. Perichek is looking at alternatives only now, after the horse left the barn, perhaps its time to look for an alternative director. Whoever is paid to prepare emergency plans should be demoted. Or is there no price for failure?

  7. Mike in WNY December 3, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    Privatize the Thruway – problem solved.

    • Alan Bedenko December 3, 2010 at 11:51 am #

      This world of which you fantasize in which every single human transaction is a financial one sounds … just horrible.

  8. Rory Allen December 3, 2010 at 11:17 am #

    If you privatized the snow removal and emergency evacuation of the thruway you would likely see big improvements. It’s amazing how organized/ efficient and creative people get when the threat of losing their job or their contract is on the line. Clearly what we are doing now isn’t working. I realize it can be chalked up as “shit happens” ….unless that “shit happens” to you …in which case you become frustrated with an expensive government that didn’t have a good plan. Nobody working for the thruway authority is desperate enough.

  9. Leo Wilson December 3, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    The city of Buffalo could use some privatization, too. Since they complain that residential streets are too narrow to plow (though never too narrow to enforce parking laws) and they refuse to buy narrower plow trucks, why not issue vouchers to small, local firms and individuals who are equipped?

    Truthfully, I don’t see why state or local governments would pay for private service or emergency response when they have no accountability for getting the job done cometently in the first place. They can just make an excuse and not provide the service they are paid for.

  10. Ward December 3, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    When I approachd the backup on I-190 southbound near Ogden Wednesday at 10 PM I tuned to AM-1610 for Thruway information. The mouth-breathing female reading the info told me that there were slowdowns southbound on the main line near Hamburg, and that traffic was “stop and go”. This was several hours after all movement had ceased on that roadway for six miles in both directions.

    That is no way to serve the public. Now I hear that the lack of road closure has something to do with that section being toll-free–not “monitored” by toll collectors. Right.

  11. Leo Wilson December 3, 2010 at 12:56 pm #

    @Alan, what part of keeping the thruway open is a human transaction, and what part is paid functionaries with a job to get done?

  12. STEEL December 3, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    I am confused. What does Frank Lloyd Wright have to do with snow storms and winter festivals?

  13. Alan Bedenko December 3, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    Frank Lloyd Wright has to do with how we market ourselves to tourists and the outside world. So should snow.  

  14. rory allen December 3, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Oh….and I couldn’t agree more about embracing snow Alan.

  15. STEEL December 3, 2010 at 5:20 pm #


    This is how you couched it ” …But we won’t, mostly because Frank Lloyd Wright had nothing to do with it and public money can’t be thrown at it.

    I really don’t see any connection between Buffalo’s promotion of FLW (which in reality is quite minimal) and the lack of a snow festival. I agree that Buffalo should make a big deal out of its winter reputation but you connecting it to Wright is silly.

    • Alan Bedenko December 3, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

      Why do I have to explain a self-evident observation any more than I already have? Tourism here has a focus on architecture, and public money is thrown at those things to attract a particular kind of tourist. That’s all we really have, isn’t it? Well, and a worldwide reputation for bad weather.

  16. BobbyCat December 3, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    Pergament reports that NBC correspondent Ron Allen did a piece on Nightly News showing the Thruway gridlock. That is a horrible publicity bomb dropped on Buffalo. The only redeeming thing about our reputation for blizzards is the usual axiom “… but they know how to handle it in Buffalo”. Now a national piece is broadcast which indicates that we don’t. Some heads need to roll.

  17. STEEL December 4, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    If you think the Buffalo area is spending big time to promote its architecture then you are living in a ferry land.  The reason there is no promotion of Buffalo’s winter festival is that there is no winter festival.  People in Buffalo have been taught to hate winter and be embarrassed about their weather and so they promote winter as bad to themselves and others. There is no cabal of Elmwood elites guding all the money into architectural tourism.  It has nothing to do with FLWright.  

    • Christopher Smith December 5, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

      There is no cabal of Elmwood elites guding all the money into architectural tourism

      Just thought you’d like to know that each time you comment about anything Buffalo related, you demonstrate a complete lack of awareness about what happens here.

  18. Hapklein December 5, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    Weather experts especially the American Meteorological Society and most physicists who study climate have emphasized since 1990 that unusual mostly unpredictable patterns would dominate the weather. Increased humidity plays a large role in the intensity of the storms that haunt WNY.
    Because of these extreme swings Buffalo’s attempts at winter festivals have mostly been a failure. Even that hockey festival barely escaped disaster last year and who can forget the world’s largest ice labyrinth that was melting as fast as it was assembled.
    We can not longer be certain that cold weather is normal from November through March. We are as liable to have 50 degree days in January as November and this year probably more so.
    We are in a new epoch that no old patterns will help us predict future occurrences. I have seen postulated that extremes that have produced flooding and extreme storms are more likely to replicate themselves in shorter durations.
    We can expect more things like the 1977 and 1979 winter storms that within a 24 month period we had three hundred year storms.
    The same flood that hit Gowanda a couple of years ago is probably going to be back within ten years and there will be no new measures prepared than were present the last time.
    It won’t matter. Just like the thruway becoming a parking lot at least once annually, we won’t be warned and no policy or preparedness will be ready. We just will continue to lurch from one emergency to another.
    Worse we are running out of money to make any significant change.
    Jimmie Griffin had it right. When disaster strikes grab a six pack and sit back.

  19. JohnnyWalker December 6, 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    You do not need toll booths to control access. There are controlled access highways that use red lights to regulate the flow of traffic entering the on-ramps. Traffic is held back until flow resumes to a satisfactory pace. gridlock is minimized. For a low-tech solution try what some cities do when they make parkway traffic one-way during rush . They have the state troopers put up wooden horses with a stripped barracade like a railroad crossing, saying ‘Do not Enter’.


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