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At Last: A White Christmas in Buffalo ... But No Winterfest

December 25, 1989

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ Organizers struggled for three years to stage a Winterfest of snow sculpting and ice skating in spite of balmy temperatures that sometimes seemed more suited to New Orleans than New York.

So this year they gave up and canceled the festival.

Then the snow began.

Buffalonians awoke Monday to their first white Christmas since 1985, in a December that figures to be one of the two coldest on record. Nearly 3 feet of snow has fallen here so far this season, and the National Weather Service says there’s reason to believe it will stay around for quite some time.

Three feet so early in the season isn’t unusual. Buffalo is on the downwind side of Lake Erie and gets ″lake effect″ snow, increased by moist air over the lake. But it’s a far cry from the kind of weather the city has seen in the last couple of few years.

But despite the return of wintry weather, the Greater Buffalo Chamber of Commerce is adamant: There will be no Winterfest this year.

The Chamber, which provided the services of 10 staff members and raised $150,000 from businesses to put on the three-week festival, won’t quite say that the lack of snow was the reason it decided in September to cancel the 1990 edition.

But spokeswoman Karen Wodarczak said last week that the Chamber did not really believe it was getting its money’s worth from the festival.

City residents have not put up a great outcry to have Winterfest revived, but the situation has prompted a few jokes.

″Someone just called me and said, ’Can’t you bring it back? Then we won’t have any snow,‴ said Dottie Gallagher, spokeswoman for Buffalo Place, an organization that oversees the downtown shopping district and helped sponsor the previous festivals.

″A lot of people here felt it was kind of ironic,″ said Deputy Mayor Samuel Iraci. ″All that stuff went into publicizing the fact that here we are in Buffalo and it gets cold here, yeah, and we get snow, but so what? And then there’s no snow.″

Last year’s Winterfest was held in late January, a month in which only 5 1/ 4 inches of snow fell and temperatures reached 59 degrees.

″You’d walk around saying, ’Is it really winter here?‴ said National Weather Service meteorologist George Skari.

The year before, when only 56.4 inches fell during the entire winter - a little more than half the normal amount - snow for the snow-sculpting contest had to be trucked in from Canada and the hills south of Buffalo.

This year, however, is the coldest December on record since 1876. Although the long-range forecast is for near normal temperatures the rest of the winter, Skari said there is reason to be skeptical about that.

″When you have a cold November and December, especially December like we’ve had, there’s a higher percentage of the next month being cold,″ he said. ″There’s no scientific fact to that - it’s just playing with statistics - but some of the harshest winters have followed a cold December.″

As for snowfall, Skari said, ″Watch this year be just about banner. We’ll have all kinds of snow and there won’t be a Winterfest.″

A few parts of the show will still go on, including the snow-sculpting contest sponsored by Buffalo Place in early February.

Iraci said Buffalo’s first First Night celebration, an arts and music festival on New Year’s Eve, also will help pick up the slack. He said the city will help revive Winterfest if other private groups want to assume the Chamber’s role.

Wodarczak found a silver lining in the troubles of Winterfest.

″One of our goals of Winterfest was to improve Buffalo’s national image,″ Wodarczak said. ″We did get some national publicity over the fact that there was no snow, so we considered it a positive.″

NY-12-25-89 1331EST

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