December 1, 1976: “en medias res”

I recall Father Nauman teaching the Latin term “en medias res” during a literature discussion at Canisius High School. It means “in the middle of things” and refers to a work of fiction opening near the middle of the actual events of the narrative.

December 1, 1976 was “en medias res” in a couple ways. First, although we didn’t know it for certain at the time, October and November had already laid the foundation for the historic winter that was still three weeks away, according to the calendar. Second, December 1 was a small respite between the first huge snow event of the Winter of 1976-’77.

Lake Erie was down to 33 degrees by the end of November, but that was one degree above freezing. With the right wind and cold enough temperatures, lake effect snow was still possible.*

And on November 30, 1976, as Gordon Lightfoot put in lyrics earlier that year, the “witch of November came stealin’.”

The temperature stayed in the teens all day and a cold south wind sustained at 20mph most of the day, picking up what moisture it could from the relatively “warm” lake and dumping it almost directly on Buffalo, rather than the traditional snow belt south of the city.


A bunch of snow fell—19 inches to be exact—on November 30, the most snow every recorded in Buffalo on that date.

As every kid in Buffalo (and probably everywhere snow falls), I recall listening for school closings. Williamsville schools were closed on December 1, 1976. I remember that.

But December 1st wasn’t that bad. The temps rose from a low of 12 degrees in the early morning to 30 degrees as the day went along. It was still about 27 degrees at midnight.**

Then, the bottom fell out, again.



*When I get around to it, I will try to explain lake effect snow for anyone who doesn’t live on the eastern side of one of the Great Lakes

**Because I have sisters and family living in the Southtowns, I should note that I am using the Weather Underground weather history data. That information almost certainly comes from the airport in Cheektowaga, New York.