Buffalo Snowstorm raises new climate change questions


Patrick Sweeney, Editor-in-Chief

For years, scientists have been warning the world about the effects of climate change on the planet. Temperatures have been consistently rising, with the climate.gov website reporting that “2021 was the sixth-warmest year on record.” The city of Buffalo, New York, felt Mother Nature’s wrath in late December when it was hit with a once-in-a-generation snowstorm. 

The deadly snowstorm barreled towards Buffalo in the week leading up to the holidays, making landfall on December 23rd. Although it began as a precipitation event, the snow soon moved in. Local agencies were quick to warn residents of the impending danger, with a Twitter feed on the wgrz.com website reading, “BLIZZARD WARNING….dangerous storm approaching. Conditions go downhill in a hurry tomorrow.” 

The initial concern was well-warranted. On Friday morning, temperatures began to drop and “blizzard conditions set in across Buffalo.” Another major concern was the wind, which topped gusts of 79 miles per hour. All in all, more than 22 inches of snow fell at the Buffalo Airport during the day. However, that number grew overnight as the snow and wind continued.

The winter storm left a massive path of destruction and its effects were widely felt across the region. Though notably, the most significant result of the storm were the lives claimed during the event, which numbered at least 39, per an abc13.com report. 

After the storm, the effort shifted to community cleanup. Since many people lost power, crews worked tirelessly for the next few days to restore the electrical grid. So as a result, the city of Buffalo imposed a travel ban, discouraging residents from leaving their homes altogether. However, this idea was met with backlash, with many considering a lack of food supplies. An NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt report in late December cited mayor Byron Brown expressing concern that his family was running out of food.

Another major takeaway from the storm has been the heroic actions of first responders and citizens who came to the rescue of stranded individuals. One hero that gained national attention was Cheektowaga mechanic Jay Whitley, who became trapped in the snow after offering aid to a friend. 

CNN reported that Whitley began helping others who were also stuck in their cars, eventually breaking into a school to offer shelter and food to the individuals. Although he felt bad about breaking the school window, Whitley left a note at the scene, saying, in part, “I’m terribly sorry…I had to do it to save everyone and get them shelter…food…and a bathroom.”

The Buffalo snowstorm has raised new questions about the impacts of climate change on national and global society. Alina Fairlie, a Junior at Holyoke High School, sees the Buffalo snowstorm as an example of how “climate change does not just affect warmer temperatures, but extreme weather in general.” Fairlie acknowledged that the greater Western Massachusetts area has had a “relatively warm” winter, but noted that things can “change quickly.”

“As a student, and someone who is going to have a part in the future of our planet, it is important to understand the negative effects humans are causing [on the environment],” Fairlie said. “Anticipating major weather events is scary but necessary because preparation can save lives. Gathering knowledge on this topic can…reverse damage…and save our earth.”

The extreme weather did not stop in Buffalo. In addition, millions in California were recently under evacuation orders due to increased threat from a bomb cyclone. Where on January 4th, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for certain regions, predicting a “quick response” with the ultimate aim of “supporting local officials.”