NWS Buffalo, New York

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Ice Storm of 1991*

On March 3rd-4th, 1991, a devastating ice storm paralyzed a large section of Western and Central New York. The freezing rain began during the late afternoon of Sunday the 3rd, continuing through the morning of the 4th. The ice coated trees and power lines and sent them crashing to the ground along with utility poles and transformers. There were also numerous reports of structural damage from the weight of the ice. Ice buildups ranged from one to two inches over the hardest hit areas. Over the western fringes of the storm area, the coating of ice was followed by 4-6 inches of heavy, wet snow. At its peak, nearly 325,000 customers were without electricity. Virtually all schools and businesses were shut down Monday and Tuesday (March 4th and 5th) in the affected areas. In the city of Rochester, schools were closed for the entire week. High water in flooded basements was commonplace when sump pumps were unable to work due to power failures. Governor Mario Cuomo declared eighteen counties state disaster areas. State agencies were authorized to provide manpower and equipment in helping residents affected by the storm. Utility crews were brought in from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Canada to aid in the restoration of power which was not accomplished entirely until March 16th. President Bush signed an order declaring 12 counties federal disaster areas. Until its time, it was the most costly natural disaster in the history of New York State as storm damages exceeded $375 million.

One to two inches of ice accumulated on tree limbs and power lines. Downed wires and trees caused widespread power outages and road closures that affected hundreds of thousands of people.

Millions of dollars in damage to trees and shrubs added to the devastation.
*Photographs by Guy Coniglio.
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