Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Winter Sun and Backyards, 1947; watercolor and charcoal on paper mounted on board, 26 ½ x 34¾ inches (Frame: 37 1/4 x 44 11/16 inches); Collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Dr. Meyer H. and Ann S. Riwchun, 2000
Voices: Stop the presses! Buffalo has no snow by Erik Brady in USA Today
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Read the full article at www.USAToday.com
BUFFALO — Here it is, nearly Christmas, and Buffalo has no snow. Stop the presses!
News is normally about what happens. This story — about what hasn’t — is national news all over, from the Associated Press to NBC to The Weather Channel. It’s easy to see why. The newspaper aphorism for a story that makes news simply because it happens so seldom is Man Bites Dog. Make this one Snowman Bites Husky.
The cold facts are these: No measurable snow has fallen in Buffalo this late in the season for the first time since records have been kept. Previous record: Dec. 3, 1899.
The national dispatches helpfully explain that measurable snow means at least a 10th of an inch. And the stories gleefully remind that parts of the city and its southern suburbs got buried in a snowstorm last November that was measured in feet, not inches. The 7 feet that fell then was remarkable even by Buffalo standards. The last pile didn’t melt until summer.
Buffalo typically gets big snowfalls early in winter, before Lake Erie freezes. That’s because lake-effect snow comes as cold air moves over warm water. This year an El Niño weather pattern means mild temperatures in the Northeast. And, sure enough, in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon it was golf weather under pewter skies — a snowless betrayal of the vaudeville gag that there are two seasons in Buffalo, winter and the Fourth of July.
This makes Cormac Schaeffer angry at the universe. He is 8. His father says Cormac is a gentle soul, but no-show snow has left him pounding his fists on the breakfast table. His trio of older sisters aren’t happy either, though mom and dad are cool with it.
I was born in Buffalo on the day Roger Bannister ran history’s first sub-four-minute mile; this apparently destined me to my ink-stained, lucky life as a sportswriter. My father was born in Buffalo on the day the Titanic sank; he liked to say this determined his bent toward epic things. And he believed no one captured the epic nature of Buffalo snow better than watercolorist Charles Burchfield, peerless laureate of Buffalo weather in all seasons.
“No snow is no big deal here. Buffalo laughs about it,” says Anthony Bannon, executive director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center. “I hear from people in New York and they want to know when we’re going to have snow. It matters more to people outside. This is a city that takes it as it comes.”
My father, Charles A. Brady — professor and poet, novelist and critic — published a poem in 1950 called Christmas in Buffalo that cites the sort of standard sampler scenes of skates and sleighs found in Currier and Ives lithographs. And then:
But Buffalo winter is Burchfield: strong,
Homely, cold; and warm. A mittened worker
Bluing the air with his own gusty breath,
Stomping big feet in lusty polka time;
His mansard roof piled high with mounds of snow.
Dun houses spill a Burchfield spilth of amber,
Like golden Buffalo beer, upon the snow —
Real snow, not Hollywood cornflake variety;
Real snow for this broad-chested northern city.
This Sunday marks 40 years since I walked into a newsroom as a reporter for the first time (as a holiday replacement at the Buffalo Courier-Express during my senior year at Canisius College). One thing that remains vivid in memory is my utter surprise when, that evening, the presses rumbled and, lo, from all the chaos I’d witnessed that day an actual newspaper appeared, with ink so fresh it smeared in my hands. The other thing I remember: Snow, lots of it.
I was a Buffalo Bills season-ticket holder who’d skipped the last game of the season for the first day of my career. This afforded me an alibi when Bills fans pelted the Minnesota Vikings with snowballs in the late stages of a desultory 35-13 loss. Vikings running back Chuck Foreman got hit in the eye; quarterback Fran Tarkenton said he spotted fathers making snowballs for their kids.
Set that misbehavior aside. Away from stadiums, snow brings out the best in Buffalonians. Neighbors regularly shovel out neighbors. Snowy Samaritans pull over to push cars out of snow banks. Snow is who we are in Buffalo.
When I was growing up, service station proprietors would post prognostications for first snowfall on homemade signs attached to the blades of their small plows. No one would have dared guess a date in December. During an average season, Buffalo gets its first measurable snow on Nov. 5. That means the city is now more than a month overdue, a pregnant pause from Mother Nature.
Fear not. The snow will come. It always does. With any luck, it will arrive in time for a white Christmas. And if not, well, this is Buffalo. A white Easter isn’t out of the question.
Brady writes for USA TODAY Sports.