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Timeline of the Blizzard of 2022

Warned to be a potential "once in a generation" event, the Blizzard of 2022 lived up to that expectation.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As 2022 came to a close Saturday, the weather event many in Western New York will remember as the top storm of the year, and for their whole lives, occurred just a week ago. Here is a look back at how the Blizzard of 2022 unfolded in Western New York. 

It all started a week before the storm moved in. The main weather headline was the lake effect snow expected for the Buffalo Bills game Saturday, Dec. 17. About a foot of snow ended up falling in Buffalo over the weekend with close to two feet for the Southtowns. But while Storm Team 2 was actively tracking that lake effect event, eyes were also on a potential winter storm brewing the following week that could impact the holiday weekend. 

Monday, Dec. 19: All signs pointed to a potential major winter storm that could impact much of the country at the worst possible: heading into Christmas. And while the timing and severity of the storm was still dependent on the strength and positioning of the weather system, Buffalo and Western New York were likely going to receive a mix of rain, heavy snow, gusty winds and bitterly cold temperatures beginning as early as Thursday, Dec. 22 and lasting through the holiday weekend. 

Tuesday, Dec. 20: As winter weather alerts started to pop up across the Midwest ahead of the storm, they were appearing locally as well. A Winter Storm Watch was issued Tuesday afternoon and warned of the potential for heavy lake effect snow and tropical storm force wind gusts, as well as the rain/flash freeze ahead of the event and brutal cold to follow. The message early on was simple: be where you want to be for the holiday weekend by Friday and then stay there through the weekend to ride out the storm. As for national travel plans, leaving sooner rather than later as the winter storm was set to develop and quickly intensify Wednesday night. 

Wednesday, Dec. 21: The now infamous "once in a generation" forecast discussion from the National Weather Service in Buffalo was published, outlining the extreme nature of the incoming winter storm. During the Wednesday Town Hall on Channel 2, Michael Wooten spoke with Mike Fries, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist of the National Weather Service in Buffalo, to gain their perspective ahead of the storm. Notably, Fries mentioned how forecasters could not pinpoint a similar storm in recent memory to compare this one. 

By the looks of it, this storm was going to be the combination of a lake effect snow storm, ice storm and wind storm all in one. And while Western New York is no stranger to any of those, never have all been associated with one event. Blizzard conditions were also becoming increasingly likely, the most extreme type of threat with any winter storm.  

Thursday, Dec. 22: The Winter Storm Watch was upgraded to a Blizzard Warning or Winter Storm Warning (depending on the county). The onset of blizzard conditions would arrive as early as Friday morning and last through Sunday. Heavy snow, mainly as lake effect, as well as wind gusts up to 70 mph were serious threats. These would lead to zero-visibility whiteouts, impossible driving conditions and flight cancellations at the Buffalo Airport. Again, the timing of these conditions paired with the Christmas holiday could not have been worse. By Thursday night, precipitation began to move in as rain and would quickly turn to snow by Friday morning. 

Friday, Dec. 23: As expected, conditions quickly deteriorated early Friday morning as this winter storm rolled in. Temperatures plummeted, rain changed to snow and blizzard conditions set in across Buffalo. Travel bans were put in place, the Buffalo Airport closed and power outages started to pop up. All three of those impacts would last through the weekend and into the following week. 

Tropical storm force wind gusts were recorded across Western New York with a top gust of 79 mph in Lackawanna. By midday, roads across Buffalo were covered in snow and conditions were becoming dangerous. After a wave of widespread snow showers that fell Friday across Western New York, this storm evolved into lake effect event with a band taking aim at Buffalo Friday afternoon. 

This lake effect band pummeled the city and surrounding neighborhoods Friday, especially areas north. Almost two feet of snow was on the ground by Friday night at the Buffalo Airport with the heaviest and most dangerous of conditions setting in for the long night ahead. A new daily snowfall record was set on December 23rd in Buffalo with 22.3 inches of snow falling at the Buffalo Airport that day. 

Another aspect of this storm besides the blizzard conditions, if that wasn't enough, was the brutal cold. The combination of the gusty winds and cold temperatures lead to wind chill values reaching well below zero. 

The National Guard was deployed to Buffalo and would arrive Saturday.  

Saturday, Dec. 24: Buffalonians were waking up to a winter disaster as the snow and wind continued relentlessly overnight. The conditions were so bad that plow crews could not keep up with the winter storm and blizzard conditions. In a press conference Saturday morning, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced that emergency services were unavailable across portions of Erie County. And unfortunately, this storm had already become deadly. 

The lake effect snow machine continued all day Christmas Eve with heavy snow and gusty winds aimed at the northern half of Western New York. The Buffalo Airport added over a foot of snow to the existing accumulation from Friday, making it upwards of four feet of snow on the ground. Snowdrifts and banks across the Buffalo area were estimated to be between 5 to 8 feet from the wind. 

Sunday, Dec. 25: Christmas Day brought some relief to the areas the storm ravaged across the Northtowns and downtown Buffalo as the lake effect band shifted a little farther south. This lake effect band took aim at the Southtowns, where this region picked up one to two feet of snow that day. Believe it or not, that wasn't much in comparison to the 3 to 6 feet of snow that fell there just a month ago during the November lake effect snowstorm that hit just before Thanksgiving. 

Travel bans across Erie County continued Christmas Day and the Buffalo Airport was closed for the third consecutive day. Roads were impassable, communities were snowed in, many still without power. 

Monday, Dec. 26:  Erie County officials confirmed 25 storm-related deaths to date. Recovery efforts kicked into high gear as the snowfall was not as intense and plow crews could begin to clean the snow with addition of some larger vehicles. 

Tuesday, Dec. 27: Blizzard and Winter Storm Warnings from the past few days were reduced to one Winter Weather Advisory for Erie County to account for the lingering lake effect snow. Finally, by the end of the day, the snow would subside and the snow removal efforts for Buffalo and surrounding towns could finally make a difference. 

Final snow tallies for this storm ranged from a few inches to feet across Western New York. Buffalo, the Northtowns and Southtowns were part of the large snow bulls-eye. Erie County's snow totals ranged from 13 inches to over 50. The Buffalo Airport had the highest total with 51.9 inches of snow falling at the National Weather Service Office from Friday through Tuesday. This event would make up over 80 percent of the snow that fell in December of 2022, now the third snowiest December on record for the city of Buffalo. 

Wednesday, Dec. 28: Nearly a week after the winter storm began, the Blizzard of 2022 was over. Driving bans were still in place across parts of Erie County and Buffalo. Snow removal crews were hard at work taking care of streets, sidewalks and snowdrifts. The Buffalo Airport opened once again after plow crews from Pittsburgh came in to aid in the reopening efforts. The death toll from the blizzard rose to 37 Wednesday and would eventually increase to 42. 

This storm lived up to it's "once in a generation" namesake, but the City of Good Neighbors did too. From heroic actions by "Merry Christmas Jay" to Bills Mafia helping communities dig out and doctors showing up at Mumina Musse's home to help deliver her baby on Christmas Day, these are all stories we celebrate.

And these stories of triumph and resiliency are paired with tragedy. A total of 40 people storm related deaths occurred because of this blizzard. Channel 2 has shared some of the victim's stories, like Abdul Sharifu. He died in trying to go get groceries for a neighbor who needed milk for their baby. Manpower Buffalo is holding a diaper drive for his pregnant widow. 

A vigil was scheduled for Sunday to honor Anndel Taylor. Taylor was one of the victims of the blizzard. She died in her car after she became trapped while trying to return home from work on the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 23. She was 22 years old.

And through the tragedy there has been the celebration of those who help others in the community. We have been able to share the stories of Sha'Kyra Aughtry who brought in a freezing man and saved his life on Christmas Eve, Jay Withey who helped bring people into Pine Hill School and get them out of the blizzard, three doctors who helped deliver a baby during the storm, a husband who was coached through helping his wife deliver their baby, and Walden Target employees who sheltered strangers in their store among other stories and surely more to come. 

From a weather perspective, other notable moments from the storm were about the comparison to the Blizzard of '77 and the term bomb cyclone. For the latter, the low pressure system that brought this blizzard to Buffalo did reach that "bomb cyclone" definition by dropping 24 millibars or more in 24 hours. The weather system at 7 p.m. Thursday had a central pressure of 1001 mb and fell to 970 mb by Friday at 7 p.m. 

As for comparison to the Blizzard of '77, from the beginning forecasters knew that these two storms, though could be similar in impact, were different by nature. The Blizzard of '77 pushed feet of snow into the Buffalo area that was sitting on top of a frozen Lake Erie. This Blizzard of 2022 was quite the opposite with snow developing as lake effect because Lake Erie was and is not frozen. This lake effect snow developing because of the now bomb cyclone that produced tropical storm force winds and brought in bitterly cold temperatures too. 

And as 2022 comes to a close and time passes, it's evident that even with the most accurate forecasts, like this one was, there is still work to be done to prepare all communities for major weather events to prevent the loss of life and terrible suffering this blizzard caused.


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