Thanksgiving Storm of 1956

Storm Paralyzes the City of Erie

A freak storm which included lightning, thunder and winds up to 45 miles an hour buried Erie under a two-foot snowfall on Thanksgiving day of November 22, 1956. The community of 130,000 on the shore of Lake Erie was virtually isolated. Traffic was paralyzed. All public transportation was stopped. Practically all industries closed as workers couldn't get to their jobs. Main traffic arteries, including Routes 5 and 20; the Buffalo-to-Cleveland routes, were plugged tight.

The heavy snowfall, which began on Thanksgiving Day, stopped about 4:00 a.m. the following day, except for scattered flurries. The Weather Bureau reported that the measured snowfall in midtown Erie was 24 inches, accumulated from 3:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to 4:00 a.m. the following day.

At Erie Airport, where all flights were canceled, the fall was estimated at 33 inches. Amazed residents watched lightening bolts flash across the sky, accompanied by loud claps of thunder, as the storm raged through the night. Gusts of wind up to 45 miles an hour made visibility zero. Banks announced that they would not be open the day after Thanksgiving. Few stores were expected to open. All public transportation was halted in Erie. Police used chain equipped cruisers for emergency hospital cases. Many nurses stayed on duty overnight. Practically all industries in Erie closed down. General Electric Company, employing about 10,000, was first to announce it would make no attempt to operate.

Outside of the City

Many small communities were shut off from deliveries and services as the storm moved in from Lake Erie and extended about 50 miles west into Ohio and all along the shoreline east to Buffalo, New York. “A real mess” said William J. Pope, who at the time was Erie County, New York's Highways Superintendent, "Some of my snowplow crews are fighting drifts on main roads which are up to seven feet high.” Snow squalls, riding 25-mile-an-hour winds, piled up from eight inches to two feet of snow in western New York State.

Springville, in northern Erie County, New York, recorded a two-foot snow fall and virtually isolated the village, which is located about 30 miles southeast of Buffalo. Villagers opened their homes to nearly 100 stranded holiday travelers and hunters. Emergency quarters were set up on the town hall.

A similar storm lashed off the eastern end of Lake Ontario and dropped up to eight inches in the Adirondack Mountains near Watertown. Hundreds of highway crewmen fought a losing battle to clear the roads. Visibility was zero as wind gusts up to 40 miles an hour filled the air with snow. The city of Ashtabula in the northeast corner of Ohio had 20 to 24 inches and drifts up to five feet. It was worse in adjacent Conneaut, Ohio, which was snow-bound.

Fairview, a community of about 3,000, 10 miles west of the city of Erie, was caught in the worst of the storm. Ernest Sesto, proprietor of the Fairview Hotel and restaurant, remarked at the time that he took in close to 250 persons overnight. There were only 26 rooms in the hotel. "They're sleeping 3 to 4 to a bed" Sesto said "They're on tables, in the booths and on the floors. We're even using tablecloths for blankets."

State Street
State Street.

The WICU News Storm Watch Team (1956)
The WICU News Storm Watch Team (1956)WICU really earned their stripes with the community. On air for 3 consecutive days in a row. Taking over 3500 phone calls.

Lawrence Park
Lawrence park.