By Doug Draper
Posted October 12th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Ten years ago this October 12th, a huge mass of winter-like air from the west moved in to the greater Niagara area, sweeping over Lake Erie waters still warm enough to make for a highly volatile, destruction mix by the time it reached shoreline communities like Fort Erie and Port Colborne, Ontario, and Buffalo, New York.
By mid to late afternoon, the freezing rain began falling as thunder rumbled overhead. Waves of icy rain continued falling relentlessly through the night, coating trees still bearing that spring and summer’s foliage and no longer able to withstand the weight of the ice.
For hundreds of thousands of residents in southern parts of Niagara, Ontario and Erie County, New York, the continuing clatter of falling ice pellets was punctuated by the sound of branches and whole trees cracking before crashing down on fences, cars the roofs of homes or whatever else was beneath them.
Hydro lines were also downed and more than 100,000 people found themselves without power – many for as long as a week before crews could get the network of lines back up and working again.
Call it the weather equivalent of “the October Surprise,” as many did, or “Lake Storm Aphid,” as did the Buffalo-based chapter of the International Weather Office, which has a long history of giving names to lake effect storms driving inland from Lake Erie.
It was the freak ice storm of 2006 -10 years ago this October 12th and 13th (and, yes, the 13th that year very fittingly fell on a Friday – and in the view of more than a few climatologists, it caused as much destruction over as wide an area as a hurricane and may just have been one more symptom of a growing frequency of severe weather episodes that is characteristic of climate change.
It also claimed at least three lives – two in traffic collisions and one from a fallen tree branch.
Like a lot of disasters though – and a multi-billion-dollar disaster it most certainly was – this one also brought out some of the best in people and institutions in local and neighbouring regions.
Hydro utility crews trucked in from all over Ontario and New York State to assist in the gargantuan task of restoring power, and government and community groups set up makeshift shelters for countless thousands of people without power or heat in their own homes.
In the Buffalo, New York area in particular, where trees add so much to the richness and character of older neighbourhoods in the city, tens-of-thousands of trees, including those lining iconic Frederick Law Olmsted-designed boulevards, were damaged or destroyed by the storm.
A grassroots group of volunteers in the Buffalo area, calling itself Re-Tree Western New York, organized later in the fall of that year and went to work collecting donations and doing the muscle work to nurse back to health and replace the damaged and destroyed trees in the area.
And as one of the more positive legacies coming out of that storm, the Re-Tree WNY group and its work to ensure present and future generations continue to enjoy a tree-rich environment continues to this day – something hopeful to keep in mind as we see some other conservation efforts, more recently on the Ontario side of the Niagara River border, fall by the wayside.
For more information on Re-Tree Western New York and its good volunteer work for conservation, click on – http://www.re-treewny.com/ ,
Read a story on the storm, published in The New York Times on October 14th, 2006 – http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/14/nyregion/14storm.html?_r=0
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