Sunday, December 6, 2009

Frozen Assets’ reveals Queen City's wintry charms

By Mark Sommer / News Staff Reporter
Updated: December 03

Buffalo is not in the Top Ten snowiest cities in the continental United States. (It's No. 11.)

It has been relegated to the sidelines for 14 of the 16 worst blizzards in U.S. history. (OK, 81 inches did fall during the Blizzard of 2001.)

Buffalo is even an also-ran in the friendly Golden Snowball Award competition between Upstate New York cities, which Syracuse has swept with the most snowfall every year since the 2002-03 winter.

As Western New Yorkers know, we have our share of the white stuff — and bragging rights to back it up — but our inflated and misleading reputation is about as off-course as lake-effect snow or the Bills' wide-right fortunes. Melting away the myths, and showing off how wonderful this snow-laden region can look in white, are what propel the new, whimsically written and ably photographed "Frozen Assets: The Beautiful Truth About Western New York's Fourth Season."

Author-photographer Mark D. Donnelly attempts to set the record straight, even as he admits to being an imperfect messenger.

"I'm probably the least-likely Buffalo winter hero you could probably create," said the Town of Tonawanda resident and father of four. His 2008 book, "The Fine Art of Capturing Buffalo," was also published by the local Buffalo Heritage Unlimited.

Donnelly doesn't like being cold. He doesn't do winter sports. And having to shovel the sidewalk and scrape his windshield are almost enough to make him yearn for the few years he lived in Tokyo, when crystal flakes were something to gaze upon in snow globes.

"People say, 'I like Buffalo because it has four seasons,' but what they really mean is spring, summer, fall and a white Christmas. But, winter is the most beautiful time of the year," Donnelly said, and his photos build a case.

Donnelly captures the season's beauty in landscapes and structures, such as the faded outline of the bow bridge and Skyway at Erie Canal Harbor in a blustery snowstorm. There is the Buffalo lighthouse caught in a lake-effect storm; a snow-covered, partially submerged planter in Allentown; and the desolation of the snowy City Ship Canal and Great Northern grain elevator; and of the mist-shrouded Scajaquada Expressway and Niagara Section of the Thruway.

Donnelly also wanted to "poke fun" at Buffalo winters, and has quite a bit of fun doing it.

Under "Snow Belt," he writes: "In Western New York, we not only look great in white, we also know how to accessorize."

He adds, "If you routinely use a yardstick instead of a ruler to measure your snow, you probably live in a snow belt."

Under the section, "Western New York Winter Survival Strategies," there is "Retail Therapy," where Donnelly points out, "They don't throw winter white sales in the summer."

Another is "Cast Fashion to the Wind": "Come December, both style and Elvis leave the building ... Stripes suddenly look fine with plaids, and no color combination is out of bounds."

One of the 14 survival strategies is titled "Stare at Stuff," opposite a picture of Burchfield Penney Art Center.

There are also poems, celebrations of cool things to do in winter and a few testaments along the way to the character-building properties of snow in Western New York, like this one, about the Blizzard of '77:

"More impressive than the tons of snow were the thousands of acts of random kindness that instantly brought the entire community together. These can never be shoveled away."

The book is already being enlisted to present outsiders with a more accurate view of Buffalo winters.

Kathie Hall, a recruitment administrator at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, received a shipment of books Tuesday to use in luring physicians, scientists and executives to Buffalo.

"So many people are just misled into thinking Buffalo is such a horrendous weather town. I thought this book would be a great recruitment tool to inform our new recruits that we do not live up to our reputation," Hall said.

“Frozen Assets” and a companion calendar can be obtained at Talking Leaves, Barnes & Noble, museum gift shops and online at

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