## Living Through a Blizzard in Buffalo

A poorer response could have easily resulted in three-figure casualties.

A general view of the snow covered seats at Highmark Stadium before a game between the Buffalo Bills and the Atlanta Falcons on January 2, 2022 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Four to six. It started as many Buffalo forecasts do, not specifying inches or feet. In a region known for its volatile weather, it's still possible to surprise residents with a meteorological event. In the days leading up to the largest single-day snowfall in the history of New York state, the forecast gradually moved closer to the "feet" than "inches." Earlier in the week, as I stopped at Tim Hortons for coffee, I looked out at an angry Lake Erie, and felt the sea breeze. Like an Indian reading nature's concentric circles, I sensed something ominous.

By the day before, there was no longer any doubt that the snowfall would be measured in feet.

A weather model is based on the partial differential equation—an equation that doesn't produce a single result, but explains the transition from one state to another. Think, for example, of a single-variable calculus function, which represents Usain Bolt’s rate of acceleration in a 100 meter dash.

In any partial differential equation, a slight change in inputs can have an outsize impact on the output. And the input data for weather forecasts—things like dew point or temperature—inherently have some margin of error. The weather forecaster, then, needs to assess the margin of error for every major weather data point, comparing his estimates with historical data to determine the most likely weather events (snow, rain, etc.). The forecaster then runs the model thousands of times, and counts the number of times a particular event is found among the results, e.g., a "90% chance of rain." Forecasters try to "calibrate" their models so that when it says 90 percent chance of rain, it rains 90 percent of the time in reality.

But the average American is bad at math. And the day before the storm, when the NFL announced that the Buffalo Bills' game would be moved to Detroit, many locals were baffled. Isn't this just snow? After all, grocery stores were busy. The plow crews were on a war footing. Other critical infrastructure crews soon followed suit.

Whatever Buffalonians lacked in foresight, they made up for in resilience.

I work in close proximity to blue-collar America, in critical infrastructure. But I am a member of the laptop class, as was revealed by my first contact with the storm. As I walked outside to pick up a Doordash order, snow fell upon me with the intensity of a downpour. It continued for a couple hours, stopped for an hour, and restarted until Friday evening.