BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) — Erie County chief executive Mark Poloncarz announced Monday a series of changes that the county says will better prepare the area for future severe winter storms.
The changes come after officials at all levels were criticized for their response during the 1922 snowstorm that killed over 40 people and paralyzed the region for several days.
Changes include the acquisition of heavy-duty snow removal equipment such as high lifts and industrial snow blowers, as well as the acquisition of tracked rescue vehicles and other equipment for transporting medical patients. This equipment will be pre-positioned in the city of Buffalo to open corridors to downtown hospitals and to assist fire departments. Ambulances will also work in tandem with tracked vehicles to get to patients who need help. They will also work with local snowmobile clubs to use these vehicles.
Additionally, the county has an agreement with National Grid to place tarpaulin and transom systems on substations to prevent ice and snow from damaging the systems.
There will also be changes to prepare the public. Poloncarz says the county will work with the University at Albany to develop a snowstorm rating system and provide weather analysts to the county. There’s also a new policy that calls for more aggressive use of IPAWS, a public warning system, to use technology to alert people of a storm. They say a new policy will also be created to increase preventive driving bans.
Poloncarz said there was a “bug” not to use the IPAWS system in December.
Poloncarz said these changes were developed after several meetings with many departments in the region as well as the state over the past eight months. On January 31, a first set of recommendations was made, followed by several announcements.
Poloncarz also addressed what he called a “misconception” that there was a master report on the blizzard response that had not been released.
“I don’t want the public and other county officials to think we’re hiding a report from their review when in reality the report just doesn’t exist,” Poloncarz said. “Instead, after the snowstorm, I instructed my commissioners and department heads to discuss with their respective staffs the actions taken during the event, analyze what worked well and what didn’t, and prepare an interagency addendum memorandum on each department’s analysis.”
Earlier this month, New York State completed its review of the storm, listing several recommendations for changes to be made. New York University also conducted an independent study, the results of which were published in June.
During the December storm, Buffalo Airport peaked at 51 inches of snow. Blizzard conditions lasted 37 hours and consisted of snow, hurricane winds reaching speeds of up to 80 miles per hour making for white-out conditions and 30-below-zero wind chills.
Aidan Joly joined the News 4 team in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.