That time a white Christmas became a nightmare

That time a white Christmas became a nightmare


It’s beginning to look a lot like a green Christmas here in Buffalo and nobody’s complaining. Not after last December’s blizzard. 

My husband and I were lucky. We were home, had no compelling need to leave our house and were well-provisioned. 

Others did leave their homes, whether they had to or not, and some of them died. Many, many people didn’t have power or heat for days. Others needed emergency medical attention that could not reach them. 

In Western New York, we’re used to extreme snow. Indeed, we’re kind of known for it. But this blizzard was something different. For 37 hours, there were winds up to 79mph, total white-out conditions and wind chills below zero.

Though the 50 or so inches of snow that came with this was the least of it – the winds and complete lack of visibility were scarier – that weekend, snowstorms became enemies in a way they never had been before. Only those who remembered the 1977 blizzard could find relatable situations.

There’s no snow outside today and I’m thinking most are fine with it.

But the blizzard was not alone, in terms of extreme or unusual climate-related events. Though our area has not been subject to wildfires, we saw our first wildfire smoke last summer, drifting down from Canadian forests. It was toxic enough to force residents to stay inside over a series of what would otherwise have been beautiful summer days.

I remember hosing the dust – not quite ashes – off my hostas. 

Extreme rain has also become the norm, especially downstate, where there have been serious floods over the past few years, some from hurricanes that can’t quite reach this far west  in full fury.

Summers and falls have definitely become hotter. That’s reflected in the new USDA map that – with many caveats – indicates plant hardiness.  I’ve gone from 5b (1990)  to 6a (2012) to -ta-da! – 6b, according to the 2023 map. The new map is said to be about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 2012 map across the U.S. And keep in mind, the USDA reaches back 30 years when they make these changes. They’re hardly radical. 

Of course, there are so many things besides technical hardiness that have an impact on plant survival. I trust a good nursery (of which we have many) to sell what should survive in my locality. But I fret about too-damp soil, too much shade, root competition, and—of course— my own ineptitude. I deal out death with abandon, regardless of zone hardiness.

What the map really confirms is what we all know: it’s warmer. Does it really help determine what gardeners should plant? In a very general way, I think it can be helpful. And here’s a good interview with the scientist who worked on it. 

When I first started with Rant nearly 20 years ago, some still argued against human-caused climate change. You don’t hear much of that any more. What I do often hear, as a newspaper opinion writer and editor, is that “Yes, the problem is real and we should take action, BUT …. Not so fast … nothing radical … people aren’t ready … the grid will fail … it’s too expensive …”

In other words, denying doesn’t work any more, so now, many in the industries who feel threatened by emissions reduction policy have moved on to scare tactics. 

But there’s very little that’s scarier than what I saw last December and what others have seen in terms of extreme weather events globally over the past few years.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy this green Christmas and I hope everyone reading this has a joyful holiday.

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