Between Christmas 1976 and February 1, 1977, more than 150 inches of snow fell over western New York. Almost as much descended on western Pennsylvania in the same period. In the last few days of January, a blizzard brought winds up to 45 mph and 20-foot snowdrifts, paralyzing Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Governor Hugh Carey of New York and Governor Milton Shapp of Pennsylvania appealed to President Jimmy Carter for federal assistance. The mayor of Buffalo, Stanley Makowski, also requested White House aid.
On Sunday, January 30, President Carter declared parts of the two states to be in a state of emergency, a category just short of major disaster status. Thomas Casey, regional administrator of the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, requested military.
Between January 31 and February 8, the 436th Military Airlift Wing from Dover AFB, Delaware, flew six C–5 Galaxy aircraft and one C–141 Starlifter with 209 tons of snow blowers and emergency vehicles along with 36 drivers and support personnel from Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Sawyer AFB, Michigan; John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York; Pope AFB, North Carolina; and Griffith AFB, New York, to Niagara Falls International Airport near Buffalo and Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. Two 437th Military Airlift Wing C–141s carried tractors, scoop loaders, dump trucks, graders, trailers, utility vehicles, snow blowers, and members of the 82d Airborne Division from Pope AFB to Niagara Falls between February 2 and 10. The planes were based at Charleston AFB, South Carolina.
Between February 2 and 4, five other C–141s belonging to the 438th Military Airlift Wing at McGuire AFB, New Jersey, carried 91 tons of snow removal equipment and 59 passengers to Niagara Falls from Pope AFB; Buckley ANG Base, Colorado; and Suffolk County, New York. The 314th Tactical Airlift Wing at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, whose 50th Tactical Airlift Squadron was deployed at Pope AFB, used more than 20 C–130 Hercules aircraft to airlift snow removal equipment and members of the 20th U.S. Army Engineer Battalion from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Niagara Falls International Airport between February 1 and 7.
On February 2, the 927th Tactical Airlift Group at Selfridge ANG Base, Michigan, responded to a Fourteenth Air Force (Reserve) call to haul 12,000 snow shovels from Rickenbacker AFB near Columbus, Ohio, to Buffalo. The Air Force Reserve’s 459th Tactical Airlift Wing at Andrews AFB, Maryland, flew a C–130 with 986 pounds of cots and blankets from Pittsburgh to Buffalo on February 2.
Air Force and Air Force Reserve units airlifted more than 1,000 tons of snow removal equipment and vehicles and over 430 personnel—including engineers, vehicle drivers, relief workers, and government officials—to Buffalo and Pittsburgh in just nine days. By mid-February, as weather improved, the cargo planes began to return snow removal equipment and personnel to their original locations.