And every man knew, as the captain did too, T’was the witch of November come stealin’.
Having written about the Connecticut Street “tornado” a few years ago I may be the closest Buffalo Rising has to a weather reporter. So when I heard that Lake Erie was working herself into a grand seiche Thursday, I grabbed the Buffalo Rising camera, donned what I thought was seiche-safe attire, and headed for the Outer Harbor.
This despite an afternoon of rain. Clearly, the wind had been blowing in from the lake steadily all afternoon. A strong, steady wind over time acting on the shallow Lake Erie “bathtub” would be just the formula for a significant seiche.
And just how strong the wind was I didn’t really grasp until I got to Ganson Street. First, I noticed a power pole that was wet on the lake side, and dry on the lee side.
When I saw that, it occurred to me that perhaps the power poles tilted away from the lake on sections of Ganson Street weren’t installed that way, as I’d always assumed. Perhaps years of buffeting by winds off the lake had something to do with that. And that’s when I heard it: a great roaring sound, suddenly coming from everywhere around me. Alarmed, I turned fully around, scanning the sky for signs of a tornado, or something. Although I saw nothing so threatening, I did get hit with several astonishing blasts of wind–three of which pushed me into the chain link fence along the sidewalk. While beginning to question whether this adventure was a good idea, I pushed on, and found things easier going once I got into the wind shadow of the Great Northern grain elevator.
Although I’ve been involved in outdoor activities since I was a kid, including winter and wilderness camping–including riding out a storm in the Adirondacks that airborned our eighteen-foot aluminum canoes and forced us to keep someone in the tents at all times to keep them from blowing away–I’d never before heard the sky roar. And before I got back, I’d hear it a half-dozen times.
Along the City Ship Canal, I saw that those waters, as well, were higher than I’d ever seen them. Remnants of a concrete dock, which I’d stood in before, were immersed in water. At another spot, just outside the protection of some ancient sheet piling, waves were eroding the bank.
But it was at the Small Boat Harbor (now Buffalo Harbor State Park) that I got a look at the lake’s fury. The Outer Harbor breakwall was topped by what appeared to be an almost continuously breaking wave “mountain” several times its height. The seiche was up to and over some of the permanent docks, and waves were crashing over the shoreline trail. South of Dug’s Dive, the waves came so far up the boat launch, that in the dark I had trouble telling where the asphalt ended and the water began. Things were flying around (too fast to identify), and the shoreline was strewn with driftwood and debris thrown up by the lake. Even my “seiche-safe” attire, that had kept me warm and dry up to this point, was no match–after a short time at the lakeshore I was soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone.
The lake’s fury reminded me of reading, in the history of the Tifft Farm (now Tifft Nature Preserve), of the regular pre-breakwall inundations. Before the breakwalls turned our Lake Erie shore into the Outer Harbor, water was known to be driven as far inland as Hopkins Street. One story tells of a family, chased out of their farmhouse by the rising waters, having to spend the night in a tree. A traveler, who helped them to safety, unfortunately succumbed to hypothermia and didn’t survive the night.
That story was much in mind on my hike back, with the sound of my teeth chattering competing with the sound of the storm in my ears. Along the way, I could see driving rain bands approaching me, giving me the opportunity to brace for the accompanying wind thump.
At one point on Ganson Street, I was nearly knocked off my feet when the wind suddenly shifted directions and hit me from the opposite way I’d braced. As I recovered my balance, I could see the wind whip the rain in a complete circle. Needless to say, I couldn’t have been happier to find a warm MetroRail train waiting when I got back to Main Street.
If there’s any moral to this story, it’s a great thing that the community resoundingly rejected the idea of creating a new neighborhood on the Outer Harbor. It’s a place you don’t want to be when Mother Nature is having a bad day.
What did you see or experience in the storm? Remember, you can upload pics in the comments!