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September 23, 2018

50 Years Ago – Historic Blizzard Paralyzed Central New York


OSWEGO, NY – The folks from New York City down through the Mid-Atlantic States are still digging out from the recent blizzard. Ask anyone around here, however, and they’ll tell you things were much worse in Central New York 50 years ago.

On Thursday night (Jan. 27, 1966), the snow began to come down heavily. By Jan. 28 it was a full-fledged snowstorm.

A convoy of trucks arrives from downstate to help the Port City clean out the Oswego streets following the blizzard.

A convoy of trucks arrives from downstate to help the Port City clean out the Oswego streets following the blizzard.

Everyone in the “Snow Belt” coped. We had weathered snowstorms before.

In fact, on Saturday, Jan. 29, there was a break in the weather. The storm had let up. No big deal. The area and its residents had survived another bout with Mother Nature’s snow machine. They always had, and always would.

Then, all hell broke loose on Jan. 30!

It seemed as if someone had put the region into a blender, added plenty of snow, and turned it on high – it was a blizzard people still speak of in awe-filled voices 50 years later.

By some accounts, when it was all over, the city was bombarded with more than 101 inches of snow.

The Fisher family home in Fulton was nearly covered by the drifting snow.

The Fisher family home in Fulton was nearly covered by the drifting snow.

The exact figure is impossible to say since the winds were so fierce there was no way to get an accurate record of the falling snow.

The only thing that’s known for sure is that the area was paralyzed.

By Jan. 30, an estimated 51 inches of snow (more than 8.5 feet total) had fallen on Central New York.

Everything from birthday parties to church services and everything in between had been canceled.

On Wednesday, Feb. 2, 1966, Oswego Mayor Ralph Shapiro offered some encouragement to a snow-weary city.

“The city is beginning to see daylight,” he said of Oswego’s struggle to shake off the effects of a coastal storm that combined with a lake-effect storm that brought the area to a standstill for several days.

A Scriba man on the Whitaker road helped clear snow for everyone in his neighborhood’s driveway!

A Scriba man on the Whitaker Road helped clear snow for everyone in his neighborhood’s driveway!

According to news accounts, the mayor was tired and hungry after coordinating all emergency efforts through the Port City’s police department for the better part of Feb. 1-2.

He conservatively estimated the economic loss to the community for the two-day period to be more than $1 million.

The figure, Shapiro said, included the loss of pay by employees and the loss of retail sales by the local merchants.

The mayor met with members of the Common Council and asked them not to revise the 1966 budget, but rather add a certain percentage to the anticipated tax rate to cover the additional cost of the cleanup activities.

You know the blizzard was bad when the snow is higher than the hood of the snowplows.

You know the blizzard was bad when the snow is higher than the hood of the snowplows. This is a scene on Hale Hill in Southwest Oswego.

New York Sate said it would make available nine plows, two snowthrowers on trailers, a maintenance crew and their personal cars to the city for emergency snow removal.

U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy’s office also called to offer its assistance.

“The storm that almost buried Oswego this weekend was much more serious than that which affected residents in 1958,” the mayor said.

Technically speaking, the storm of 1958 couldn’t be classified as a blizzard since it wasn’t accompanied by high winds. In fact, it didn’t have any wind at all.

During the blizzard of 1966, winds reportedly gusted to more than 60 mph and churned the falling snow into monstrous drifts dropping visibility to zero in the process.

That was the normal condition for the storm, from about 6 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 30 until midnight Monday, Jan. 31.

An estimated 50 inches of snow fell on Oswego on Monday to bring the storm’s total to 101.5 inches since 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, news accounts of the storm claim.

This photo, taken on Bridge Street in Oswego shows the comparison to an adult and the size of a plow needed to clear the streets.

This photo, taken on Bridge Street in Oswego shows the comparison to an adult and the size of a plow needed to clear the streets.

Drifts of 15 feet or higher in some areas were common all over the area. By contract, there were large areas where the fierce winds had blown the snow away to reveal bare ground.

“There was no wind during the storm of 1958,” according to Bill Gregway, local observer for the National Weather Service. “The snow fell gently and evenly. But, in ’66 the winds howled. It was a blizzard in every sense of the word.”

The snowfall measured about seven feet in 1958, as compared to 8.5 feet in 1966.

Virtually nothing moved in the city on Monday and Tuesday. Everything was closed down. Even funerals were delayed.

Most cars hadn’t been started since Sunday; the majority was buried under mounds of snow and their owners hadn’t gotten to them yet.

Schools were closed for the entire week all across the area and registration at the State University College at Oswego was postponed.

Those residents who weren’t outside shoveling were inside huddled around their radios and TV sets listening to reports of the storm.

The city’s Department of Public Works struggled to get the streets passable.

The Ciciarelli home in Fulton is nearly engulfed by the snowdrifts.

The Ciciarelli home in Fulton is nearly engulfed by the snowdrifts.

The youngsters didn’t mind the mountains of snow. They were making huge snow forts and sliding almost anywhere. Some youngsters were even reportedly sliding out of the second-story windows at their homes.

During the height of the snow emergency, some nurses and staff members at Oswego Hospital worked 16 to 18 hours without a break.

“Service beyond the call of duty,” was the way Paul Sobering, administrative director, praised the work of the staff.

Dr. Jerry Belden arrived at the hospital aboard a snowmobile, according to newspaper accounts.

“I think the people of this hospital who worked so hard have certainly earned the gratitude of everyone in the city,” he said.

On Thursday, Feb. 3, Paul Phillips, executive director of the Albany area Red Cross, said his organizations were using two Army helicopters to airlift food and medical supplies to stranded families.

In Pennellville, 80 families reportedly had to have food supplies parachuted to them as there was no other way to get past the gargantuan mountains of snow.

Snow covered the side of the Lairds' home in Scriba.

Snow covered the side of the Lairds’ home in Scriba.

According to an Associated Press report that day, “New snow, ranging from flurries to two inches or so, fell almost unnoticed today in the drift-laden East.”

Meanwhile, in Fulton, a semblance of normalcy had returned to the city.

After three days of digging out from under six feet of snow, the city was coming back to life, local newspapers reported.

Four more inches of snow fell on Feb. 4.

Things were getting back to normal, but not quite.

More had to be done, Mayor Shaprio said, before the state of emergency would be lifted in Oswego.

All the main roads, with the exception of Interstate 81, were reportedly open.

However, safety was still a major concern as the sidewalks weren’t cleared and people had to walk in the roadway to get anywhere.

A plow tries to clear a path on Oak Street in Fulton after the blizzard.

A plow tries to clear a path on Oak Street in Fulton after the blizzard.

The extra equipment the state had promised finally made its way to Oswego.

It seems they had been sidetracked in Syracuse for a while.

The crews arrived in the Port City in the afternoon, but didn’t go to work until that evening.

On Saturday, Feb. 5 newspaper headlines proclaimed: “Emergency Over, Most Outside Equipment Leaves Today.”

“It looked like old times this morning on West First Street, with barely an inch of snow on the ground, cars and people heading for their various destinations and a feeling of general relief as the snow emergency heads into its final hours,” a story in the local paper reported.

Effective at 7 a.m. Monday, Feb. 7, the Local Department of Public Works assumed all snow removal activity, the mayor said. The state of emergency was officially lifted.

When the Port City woke up Feb. 7, it was life as usual again.

Looking north at the edge of the SUNY Oswego campus. One road is plowed, but the cross street is still snowed in.

Looking north at the edge of the SUNY Oswego campus. One road is plowed, but the cross street is still snowed in.

“City Regains Normal Life One Week After Big Storm,” the headlines proclaimed.

The late Elmer F. Loveridge, retired U.S. Weather Bureau meteorologist, was the weather observer at the time.

He said he measured .10-inch of precipitation in the snowfall, “unusual for this time of year,” he said.

There was about 44 inches of snow on the ground, he added.

That was down three inches from Saturday’s high of 47 inches.

The snow was hard to measure, he pointed out, because it was heavy and packed down on itself.

An accurate measurement of what fell during the height of the storm was impossible to say due to the extremely high winds, he explained.

(Photographs courtesy of Jim Farfaglia, author of “Voices in the Storm – Stories From The Blizzard Of ’66.”

21 Responses “50 Years Ago – Historic Blizzard Paralyzed Central New York”

  1. Michelle
    January 28, 2016 at 6:08 am

    I built an igloo and tunnels in my front yard with my big brothers that year! :)

  2. Nan
    January 28, 2016 at 8:50 am

    There was so much snow in front of the back door to our house my parents had to take the storm window. My Mother used a broom to push the snow up and away so they could eventually open the door. We had windows on three sides of our family room and we couldn’t see out of any of the windows. When the sidewalk shoveling was done the snowbanks were so high it was like walking in a maze with 7 foot walls. I remember trying to help shovel, but I couldn’t throw the snow high enough.

  3. Kathy
    January 28, 2016 at 8:53 am

    The snow was definitely over the hoods of the snow plows on RTE 104 in Martville, NY. I remember well watching the big trucks with snow blowers clearing the snow drifts.

  4. Emil VanBuren
    January 28, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    We tunneled our way out of the house on Pershing drive and it took an hour to get to Maribito’s store. Normally would be 5 minutes tops. They were out of bread and milk so we brought back flour, yeast, and powdered milk and Mom made bread. The smells were wonderful.
    I remember there was no school for more than a week.

  5. Fred Hartman
    January 28, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    All car drivers were required to place a flag on a long pole on the front of their vehicle to announce they were approaching an intersection.

  6. Linda
    January 28, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    We loved having no school! Then my neighbor friend got appendicitis, and they had to plow our dead-end road so the ambulance could get to her. Soon after that, we went back to school!

  7. January 28, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    Remember this one in Fulton..we lived I a two story house and couldn’t see out of any of the upstairs windows. We needed a step ladder in order to even start to dig out. We learned that in the snow.belt, it was necessary to have at least powdered milk, flour and yeast in the pantry. Never wanted to actually use the powdered milk, bat at least you’d have it , just in. See.

  8. January 28, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    When I got up in the morning the snow was about 47 In. in the road on Eire St in Fulton. It took a few days to clean it all up so to get out & drive on the road.

  9. Chad
    January 29, 2016 at 2:22 am

    Can someone explain how 52 inches equals 8.5 feet?

  10. Holly
    January 29, 2016 at 6:53 am

    My dad snowshoed from the house to get to the street.

  11. Steve Yablonski
    January 29, 2016 at 7:12 am

    That was the total to that day, the 101+ is the storm total

  12. Bill Acker Sr.
    January 29, 2016 at 8:15 am

    Marvin’s observation was accurate. I had three small children at the time who needed milk so I started to make my way to Gillespie’s Dairy on foot. By the time I got to the corner of Erie & North 6th Streets in Fulton, the snow was up to my armpits. I had to return home and don a pair of cross country skis in order to make the journey.

  13. steve tibbiys
    January 29, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Thank God we missed it. My wife and I were married in March of ’65, the first wedding in the Neumann Chapel on Oswego’s campus and moved away that August. For years living in S.C. retold stories of the stom, but Southerners wouldn’t believe it.

  14. steve tibbits
    January 29, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Name mistyped in previous post

  15. Deb
    January 29, 2016 at 10:14 am

    I lived on Crosby Hill. I remember standing on top of the many feet of snow in what usually was our driveway, looking several feet down onto my sisters car on freshly plowed Rte 3. They had managed to get out and came to us. My uncle had died shoveling snow during the storm. The funeral was many days later, but we did have to walk into town for other things.

  16. Jean Rudy
    January 29, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    We lived in Ithaca at the time. I worked as a nurse at Tompkins Co Hospital. Remember people skiing, and riding in to work on horse back. Those of us that made it in slept in any empty beds and at the nursing supervisors apartment on the grounds. Some of the snow plows reminded me of the bow of a ship . When our road was plowed and we went home, cudn’t see over the snow and ended up in the neighbors yard where he had construction equipment that had plowed the road to his place!

  17. Renée Fernandes
    January 29, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Lived just off rt 104 ( McFarland Rd) in north sterling not far from the lake. Remember having a snow drift on the back of our sofa as the wind on the hill was so strong that the storm window and regular window had both cracked and the snow just blew right in! Dad went on a grocery run for us and a few neighbors into the valley by snowmobile as the plows and backhoes were having a tough time themselves digging out. Was quite an adventure for us kids, will never forget it!

  18. Dolores Hemming
    January 29, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    I lived in Oriskany, age 16, and remember that there was so much snow in our driveway that Dad’s snowblower couldn’t throw high enough on the snowbank, so he had me climb up it with a shovel to try and knock it down enough to keep plowing. He worked for several hours with men on our street to try and clear neighbors drives and walks. I bet the snowbank was a good ten feet, at least!

  19. LM
    January 30, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    We lived in Floyd, just outside of Rome, NY. I was 11 years old and amazed at how everything outside was just one tall blanket of white. Snowplows couldn’t get through for several days. When my sisters and I were able to get outside we walked on top of the snow and realized that we were standing above the top of the street sign that stood in the corner of our yard! The following winter it seemed like everyone had a snowmobile.

  20. Dave Davis
    February 1, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    I was born just after the storm in Rome Hospital. My parents were worried that I would be born at home , as we live 7 miles from the hospital. But they got the roads open in time.

  21. S Parsnow
    February 2, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Was an amazing time my dad had to go out the 2nd story window drop to the ground and shovel to the door way in Granby center . Then he started on the drive way with all of his children helping out so he could get to work as soon as the plows came by was a time to remember

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