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Blog: Is Rochester one of "America's Safest Weather Cities"?

Recently, The Weather Channel (TWC) released a report highlighting “America’s Safest Weather Cities.”  There were two on the list in the Northeast:  Caribou, Maine and Rochester.

Interestingly, for a city that is normally maligned in various “places rated almanacs” for its snowy winters (not everyone thinks snow is bad, by the way), I suppose this is a nice change of pace for the Rochester Chamber of Commerce.  

Perhaps I am taking this ranking too seriously, but it irks me, nevertheless.

The Weather Channel claims that it used certain criteria to make these determinations (heat, flood, cold, snow/ice, lightning and tropical cyclones).

So then how is it that Albany, with half the annual snowfall of Rochester and otherwise comparable conditions, did not make the list?  Why is it that Buffalo, which receives slightly less snowfall than Rochester, but is mostly similar, did not make the list?  

But in my view here is where The Weather Channel really erred:
The Rochester area has been the location of some of the greatest ice storms in the history of this state and this nation.  They result in some of the most “unsafe” weather conditions that are possible.

Had TWC done the necessary research or at least differentiated between snow storms and ice storms, here is what they would have found:
Because of the City’s location on a lake plain with Lake Ontario to the north and increased elevations to the south, under certain and not especially rare conditions, extended periods of freezing rain occur.  They result from low level cold air that oozes south from the Province of Ontario, becomes trapped north of the highlands and is over-ridden by warm moist air associated with storms passing across Pennsylvania and eastern New York.  Other major upstate cities on the Thruway simply do not have this ideal icy setup.

Over the past 100 years, several very severe ice storms have struck the Rochester area.

Most notably, in March of 1991, 17 hours of continuous freezing rain built a glaze up to 1.5 inches thick on exposed surfaces such as tree limbs and power lines.  This resulted in more than half a million people in the area going without power, some for two weeks.  And one person died as a result of the storm.  When the final tally was in, the March, ’91 Rochester ice storm was the most costly storm in State history.

Some years later, in April of 2003, history almost repeated with an unprecedented late season ice storm that resulted in an ice accretion of up to 0.75 inches.  Extensive power outages and tree losses were again reported.

Ice storms are among nature’s most dazzling yet dangerous storms.  And few metropolitan areas in the United States the size of Rochester are as prone to receive such significant icing.

I suggest that the next time TWC attempts such a list, they conduct more extensive research or at least adjust their criteria to note that ice storms and snow storms are not necessarily equal in terms of potential danger.


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