Study shares what went right, wrong in Christmas blizzard
By Evan Anstey,2023-06-02
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — What went right and what went wrong during the Christmas blizzard?
Tasked by the City of Buffalo with helping answer this question, New York University looked into it. The university’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service’s Rudin Center for Transportation led a review, which we heard details of on Friday afternoon.
The report looks at, as Sarah Kaufman put it, “how Buffalo handled preparation, response, and recovery.” Kaufman leads the Rudin Center for Transportation.
The study came at no cost to city taxpayers.
“Because Mayor Brown requested the study, we’re hoping to provide actionable learnings so that Buffalo can pinpoint how to be ready for the next storm,” Kaufman said in an NYU interview published in January.
The four main areas of impact looked at by the study were roads, utilities, communications and equity.
The storm, which resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people in Erie and Niagara counties, covered the region in heavy snow, with the Buffalo airport reaching a peak of more than 51 inches. Also referred to as “Winter Storm Elliott,” it started on December 23, with blizzard conditions lasting 37 hours.
“Hurricane-force winds of up to 80 miles per hour brought whiteout conditions and 15-foot high snowdrifts, wind chill temperatures dipped to 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and the blizzard lasted longer than any prior storm below 5,000 feet of elevation in continental U.S. history,” the NYU report’s executive summary said.
Buffalo received criticism for the state of the streets and the handling of the travel ban.
“Buffalo’s emergency vehicle fleet, storage capabilities and warming centers were not sufficient to fully address December’s once-in-a-generation blizzard,” the 170-page study said.
In response to what happened and the recommendations found in the study, Mayor Brown says action is already underway.
He spoke of purchasing additional pieces of snow removal equipment, as well as equipment for the city’s fire and police departments, as examples of how the city is preemptively preparing for the possibility of another storm in the future.
“With climate change, we know we will see more harsh weather in our community,” Brown said.
The city also created new positions, such as fleet manager.
“An incoming fleet director will provide crucial oversight on available vehicles and equipment, as well as work to bolster our city-owned assets,” Mayor Brown previously said.
Not to be confused with the individual fleet managers within Buffalo’s public works, fire and police departments, the person in this role would report directly to the mayor and deputy mayor.
Additionally, a storm response task force, made up of about 20 people, has since been established. Mayor Brown says this group, which includes members of city, county and state agencies, among others, will have scheduled meetings ahead of another storm.
Communication was a key point of what Brown says needed improvement. He noted the need for this between the city and businesses, as well as the city and residents. One of the recommendations from the study was the creation of a business notification system for private businesses.
“We have to be proactive, not reactive,” he said.
For residents and those traveling through Buffalo, the study says the city has “taken steps” involving physical signage in public locations to alert people of upcoming weather and warming center operations.
“Alerts concerning travel bans and stay-at-home orders were not sufficient to fully convey the situation’s urgency,” the study said. “The city relied on television and radio announcements, which were ineffective for residents without those devices, and the thousands of customers who had lost power.”
Although there were and are problems needing to be addressed, the report praised Buffalo for living up to the “City of Good Neighbors” moniker.
“It is clear that Buffalonians take care of one another, taking in strangers, checking on their community members, and aiding anyone in need,” the report said. “The city should lean into those strong relationships as a way to lift up all communities during and after disasters.”
Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter .