The Buffalo blizzard
When, in February 2021, the temperatures in parts of Texas dropped to the low teens, crashing the power infrastructure, officials were at a loss dealing with a problem that they simply hadn’t had before — and people died as a result. The same was true later that year in the Pacific Northwest as temperatures hit 115 degrees, baking Oregon and Washington to the point that cables literally melted and roads buckled in a region where most homes don’t have A/C — and people died as a result.
The same cannot be said for officials responsible for the safety of typically snowbound western New York, which was rocked by a blizzard that caused a staggering death toll of at least 39.
Yes, the blizzard dumped heavy snow on Buffalo, totaling about 4 feet and it came faster and harder than perhaps was expected. Still, 31 people dead in the city of Buffalo, with a population of about 280,000, would be equivalent to a death toll of 1,000 in New York City, a gigantic catastrophe that demands a thorough examination of what went wrong and who failed.
There’s no doubt some of the damage was done by Buffalonians simply disregarding emergency instructions — and let us make it clear here for anyone who thinks they know better about dangerous weather than seasoned emergency services personnel: you don’t — but there was also some element of official complacency.
It seems like government leaders figured they knew snow and cold weather, and reacted too slowly with road closures and travel bans, including Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Kathy Hochul, the first Buffalo native to be governor since Grover Cleveland. In this way, being too used to a certain type of storm can be as dangerous as being completely blindsided by it. Leaders around the country will have to learn that even relatively standard weather events can be unexpectedly devastating in a world with a rapidly changing global climate. The days of normal precautions won’t cut it for an abnormal reality.