Despite progress, the city would benefit from upgrades to emergency communications, vehicle fleet, blizzard planning, and housing for low-income residents, report finds

Snowplow in action
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A report released today (June 2) by a team of researchers at New York University identifies actions the City of Buffalo can take to respond to a major blizzard like the uniquely challenging “generational storm” that struck the city of 276,807 people on the shores of Lake Erie in December.

Hurricane-force winds of up to 80 miles per hour slammed Buffalo during the Christmas season, causing whiteout conditions, 15-high snowdrifts, and wind chill temperatures dipping to 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The blizzard lasted longer than any prior storm below 5,000 feet of elevation in continental U.S. history. It resulted in 46 deaths in Erie County, including 31 in Buffalo, and had serious adverse effects on the city’s infrastructure, businesses, and many residential areas.

While the new report —authored principally by Sarah Kaufman, interim director of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation—notes that Buffalo city leaders are taking steps to enhance preparation and recovery, the researchers recommended a series of additional short-term and long-range improvements. Titled “Lessons Learned from the Buffalo Blizzard,” the independent study was conducted at the request of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and the City of Buffalo.

The report’s recommendations address issues raised by the city’s response to and recovery from the 2022 storm. These issues range from snow removal resources, to widespread power losses that slowed recovery operations. Other report recommendations address emergency communications to the public and long-time inequities, for example in housing quality and in the ability of low-income individuals to stock up on food and medicine before the storm.

Among the specific recommendations:

·      Develop an extreme event plan for large snow events where public mobility was severely limited.

·      Build two new Department of Public Works facilities – a replacement for the aging Broadway Barns facility, and a Traffic Management Center.

·      Identify at least one warming shelter per council district, and develop a planning for equipping, staffing and communicating.

·      Deploy signage in high-traffic areas, and use the Wireless Emergency Alert system to ensure emergency notifications reach a majority of Buffalonians.

·      Evaluate aging housing stock and electrical infrastructure, and develop a plan for upgrades with the aid of investment by the county, state and federal government and the private and non-profit sectors.

“A true strength of the City of Buffalo is that it lives up to its nickname, ‘The City of Good Neighbors,” according to the report. “Its residents are a testament to the city’s resilience and caring nature. Our research team encourages the city to lean into this strength and utilizing its tight-knit communities to prepare local residents for future weather crises, and to foster even more effective mutual assistance. This report provides a roadmap for helping the city make meaningful changes.”


About the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation:
The Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service seeks to improve the flow of people and goods in New York. We draw upon scholars, graduate students, and public officials who participate in our public forums and shape our research. We also prepare emerging leaders in the transportation field, explore how new technologies will influence mobility, and study how emerging patterns of work will affect locational preferences.


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Robert Polner
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