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Poloncarz examines categorizing blizzard severity similar to hurricanes

The Erie County Executive tweeted Tuesday that he instructed county emergency service officials to develop a blizzard severity rating system.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — If you had to categorize the December blizzard, how would you? 

That's something Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has instructed his emergency management team to figure out. 

Poloncarz tweeted Tuesday that he told staffers to prepare a so-called blizzard rating system, similar to the way hurricanes are categorized. 

The county executive added that they'll use this system for internal planning, but also getting the word out to the public, something he and other county commissioners said they could have done a better job of doing before and during the blizzard. 

"I don't think the public really took it seriously,. until Wegmans and Tops announced they were closing," Poloncarz told 2 On Your Side on Tuesday. "When people heard that Wegmans and tops were closing, which is unheard of in this area, then people realize this is a significant storm."

As early as Dec. 20, the National Weather Service was using the language "generational storm" and "unprecedented" in their forecasting. Poloncarz told The Buffalo News on Tuesday that he felt the public didn't understand what that actually met. 

Right now, the National Weather Service does not categorize blizzards like they do with a hurricane. A hurricane is categorized 1-5 based on their maximum sustained winds. A category 1 hurricane, for example, has sustained winds ranging between 75-95 mph. 

The peak wind gust during the blizzard was 79 mph in Lackawanna, but peak wind gust and sustained winds are very different. 

A blizzard is defined as "sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles an hour or greater; and considerable falling and/or blowing snow."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does categorize snowfall, using the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale index. However that categorizing occurrs after a storm, not ahead of it. NOAA currently categorized the December blizzard as a category 2 on the NESIS index

The county executive did not publicly say how officials will develop the rating system. 

A source told 2 On Your Side it will not be a one-sized fits all metric, but rather several variables that will be considered to categorize a blizzard. 

It's also unclear if this ratings system will be used exclusively for blizzards, or other large snow events will be included. 

Prior to the December 2022 storm, the last blizzard to hit Western New York was in January of 2014. 

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