December 7, 1976: “heat wave! (over)”

December 7, 1976 began as the second consecutive day over freezing, eventually reaching 37° with light rain at 5am. Alas, the rain turned to snow by 10am, and the temps kept dropping to a low of 12° by midnight.

And so it goes.

December 6, 1976: “Commander Tom”

The temperature got up 37° on this day in December 1976, with some light freezing rain, drizzle and some snow flurries. I remember Tom Jolls would refer to that mix as “snizzle.”

Tom Jolls, weatherman extraordinaire!
Tom Jolls, weatherman extraordinaire!

Tom Jolls teamed up with news anchor Irv Weinstein and sports anchor Rick Azar for WKBW Channel 7 in the year I was born and were still at it after I graduated from college in 1988. He was one of the reasons I wanted to become a weatherman.

He was also one of Buffalo’s local media celebrities, hosting a children’s show as Commander Tom. With sets and costumes rivaled only by those one might see at local youth theatre, the Commander Tom Show included Tom Jolls in various segments between cartoons.

Here is a a clip from what appears to be an early 1980’s Christmas Special during which Ann the Elf makes “Fuzzies” while Commander Tom looks on with the enthusiasm of a root canal.

Commander Tom was an after-school staple that I seem to recall also aired on Sunday morning’s and introduced my to Davey and Goliath, the Christian-themed claymation show featuring a kid and his conscience-driven talking dog. (“Daaaaavey, I don’t think Jesus would snap that kitten’s neck like that.”)

 

December 5, 1976: “bills lose”

With a high of 28° and some light snow, December 5, 1976 meant a full week with temperatures below freezing, pretty impressive this early in the season.

Even more impressive was O.J. Simpson’s 203 yards rushing versus the Miami Dolphins, following up a single-game record (at the time) 273 yards against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. Alas, you’ve probably already noticed that the December 5 game was against the Miami Dolphins, the team that I like to say “stole my childhood.” The Bills went zero for the 1970’s against the Dolphins, or more simply, 0-20. Their loss to Miami dropped the Bills’ record to 2-11.

It’s worth mentioning the Bills’ back-up quarterback, Gary Marangi, here. With Joe Ferguson out the final seven games of the 1976 season, Marangi led the team to a 0-7 record with seven touchdowns to sixteen interceptions. His 35% completion percentage is still an NFL record for futility. Marangi’s 1976 season is widely regarded as the worst ever for a quarterback.

December 4, 1976: “still cold”

Today in Aiken, South Carolina it was gray, cold ( mid-40’s) and drizzly–the perfect day for a little raking and cleaning up of the yard before the Bills/Raiders game. Go Bills!

Forty years ago in Buffalo, the temperature failed to reach freezing for the sixth consecutive day, and there was light snow. Otherwise, to be honest, there isn’t much to report.

I think I need to include more historical data beyond the weather; I’ll try to do so as the week progresses.

December 3, 1976: “Mary’s Birthday!”

Some people begin celebrating Christmas immediately after the trick-or-treaters leave; others wait until Black Friday or the weekend after Thanksgiving.

For me, Christmas doesn’t really start until my sister Mary’s birthday, December 3.

Happy birthday Mary!

December 3, 1976 started cold, 6° to be exact, and just got colder. It bottomed out at -3° at 8am, still a record for the date. Some light snow fell as the evening gave way to night.

I don’t recall any specific elation, but I do remember schools were closed for the third day in a row. I’m not certain why I remember that little fact. Was I excited that we had a five-day weekend immediately after Thanksgiving’s four-day weekend? At ten years old, though, I still liked school. Maybe I remember because I was kinda bummed and bored. I don’t know.

I guess I’m at the age when I wonder about the memories that stick but don’t care enough to find out why.

December 2, 1976: “lake effect”

I learned early that, even in the 1970’s, Buffalo’s snow removal equipment was good enough that snow-days were not only a matter of how much snow fell but also when that snow fell. A lake effect snow squall of even a foot or more in the late afternoon and early evening didn’t mean much; they would have the roads clear enough by morning, and most bus drivers were darn good in the snow. The snow had to come at night, preferably after midnight, or early in the morning. Even the best bus drivers couldn’t manage a snow-covered road if they couldn’t see it.

Gauging snowfall at night meant watching the streetlights.

On Mill St., we had a streetlight immediately in front of the house and another down the street on the corner of Edward and Mill, by the condominiums where the Snyders lived. The front streetlight was only visible through the south-facing window at the bottom of the stairs and the landing window at top of the stairs.

On the north side of the house, though, my bedroom window faced directly down Mill St. to the corner streetlight.

I don’t know how many nights I went to sleep staring at that streetlight as the snow blew by, looking for imperceptible changes in the volume of snow and the size of the flakes.* More often than not, I would wake up in the middle of the night and be disappointed by a crisp clear view of the streetlight, the Jensens’ house next door almost glowing in the light. Every so often, though, I would wake up and the Jensens’ house would be a shrouded shadow and the light would appear as a blurry, barely visible orb. I would then sneak out of my bedroom, tip-toe down the hall, and look for front-streetlight confirmation from the window at the top of the stairs.

I like to think that’s what I did in the early morning hours of December 2, 1976.

The temperature at 1am was still 27° but began dropping. By 3am, the temperature was low enough to pull moisture from the unfrozen 33°** lake and the winds were just right to create heavy snow. Through the early morning, visibility was reduced to less than a quarter mile as the snow, already 13 inches deep from November 30’s storm, began to pile up again.

Here's a nice satellite image of lake effect snow from the November 18, 2014 storm that resulted in the second most snowfall in a 24-hour period in United States history. Note the thick band of snow just south of Buffalo and the thinner bands elsewhere.
Here’s a nice satellite image of lake effect snow from the November 18, 2014 storm that resulted in the second most 24-hour snowfall in United States history, 65 inches.

 

Schools, which were already closed for December 1, were closed again. (Yippee!).

By 10am, the temperature dropped below 20° and the Greater Buffalo International Airport closed, but at least the snow had subsided. The cold kept coming; by the time snow began falling again at 1pm, the temperature was down to 16°, down to 8° by 6pm, and 1° at 10pm.

When it was all over, over 16″ of snow had fallen on December 2 alone and the storm was blamed for nine deaths.

December 2, 1976 is still the coldest and snowiest December 2 on record.

 

*I don’t know if a meteorologist can confirm this, but my observation has always been that large flakes meant not so much snow. Often, a lake effect snow squall will begin with large flakes, but for it to drop a lot of snow, those flakes eventually get smaller.

**Just for the sake of comparison, Lake Erie is 47° today–December 2, 2016. (A little bonus trivia, too: the temperature is taken at a depth of 30 feet at the Buffalo Water Treatment Plant)

 

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.

1130satellite

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.