Snowstorm a Surprise for Science and Sages

Winter came early to western New York and the areas around the Great Lakes.

Since Friday morning, they've been digging out from the snowiest October day on record for Buffalo, N.Y. -- this after cities like Chicago and Detroit had the earliest autumn snow on record.

"Who would have thunk?" asked Christopher Golding of Corfu, N.Y., east of Buffalo, as he dug out the street in front of his house. "How many days is it before Halloween?"

Leaves on the Trees

Even in a region that's used to knee-deep snow, this one came as a surprise.

"This certainly is historic, even for winter-weary western New Yorkers," said Kevin Williams, meteorologist, president and founder of Weather-Track Inc. "The Buffalo tally of 22 inches broke every record for the day and for the month."

The snow came so early that green leaves were still on the trees, complicating the problems that come with any major storm. In parts of western New York state, half the trees were toppled by the extra weight -- snow settling on the branches instead of reaching the ground.

The trees brought down power lines with them; 380,000 homes and businesses were reported without power at the peak.

"Had this snowfall happened in two or three weeks, when the leaves would already have dropped onto the ground, we wouldn't be having nearly the problem with the broken branches and the trees literally coming down," said Dennis Feltgen of the National Weather Service.

Farmer's Almanac

But the early blizzard is not necessarily a harbinger of a particularly harsh winter.

"Back in the early 1800s, there was a huge early storm in October, and it was a barbaric winter. But sometimes there's an early snow, and then the winter wimps out," Williams said. "So I don't know that there's a correlation to the winter to come."

While the sage advice of "The Old Farmer's Almanac," first published in 1792, predicted a colder winter for the lower lakes, October was supposed to be "drier than normal."

The "Almanac" uses "a secret formula" that was devised by its founder, Robert B. Thomas, to predict the weather.

"We predict weather trends and events by comparing solar patterns and historical weather conditions with current solar activity," says an explanation on the "Almanac's" Web site.

Though the "Almanac" might have a long history of weather prediction, its forecasts are not necessarily taken into an account by most modern-day weather experts.

"Most meteorologists look at 'The Farmer's Almanac' and love it for their recipes and anecdotes," Williams said.