Winter crashed into Erie County on January 6 with arctic chills, heavy snows, and sustained winds as the Blizzard of 2014 ushered in the New Year with polar conditions. The first blizzard to hit our area since 1993, this intense storm primarily pummeled the Southtowns, but its fury was felt in Buffalo and the Northtowns as well when snow bands shifted north on Tuesday January 7 to blanket Cheektowaga, Amherst and other areas. Paralyzing cold, abundant snow, and perilous driving conditions became the norm until the storm weakened and residents were able to dig out, clear streets, and assess the lessons learned from this “Storm of the Decade”.
We learned that effective preparation and communication along with strong partnerships are essential to public safety in an event such as this. As the only Western New York County designated as “Storm Ready” by the National Weather Service, Erie County began preparing for the storm prior to the first flakes falling. With a constant eye on developing weather conditions, Erie County’s Departments of Health, Emergency Services, and Highways, along with the Sheriff’s Office, utilities, and several state agencies, prepared for the oncoming polar blast to ensure that communications with the public and between agencies would be seamless throughout the weather event. Everyone was on-message and alert.
When the storm hit, I moved swiftly to declare a State of Emergency in Erie County, coordinating with partners countywide through the Emergency Operations Center in Cheektowaga and monitoring a fast-changing winter event that closed roads, schools, business, and municipalities. As whiteout conditions persisted, emergency personnel, law enforcement and snow plow drivers all rose to the challenge and performed admirably under very trying circumstances. I thank all of our partners for their contributions and am also thankful that my administration led the way on a new snowplowing contract last year, which was essential to storm response.
The power of traditional and social media was also on display as the public heeded the call to remain indoors and off the roads as the storm swirled over us; driving bans were respected, drivers were not stranded on snow-choked highways as in past storms, and public safety got a big boost as residents weathered the storm from inside their homes rather than out on the roads. When temperatures plunge as they did during the blizzard, even minimum exposure can have damaging effects. I cannot express my gratitude enough to the public for taking these storm warnings to heart, and am pleased to say that despite the ferocity of the blizzard, no storm-related fatalities occurred.
As the Blizzard of 2014 fades into memory it is important to remember how closely agencies across Erie County collaborated to cope with the storm. People will long debate how bad the snow was and how it compared to blizzards of the past, but there is no denying that something was different this time. This time, warnings were observed, communication and safety were maintained, and as a result the Polar Vortex passed into history without serious incident.