When faced with record snowfall and two sales scheduled just days after the storms, Greater Erie Auto Auction powered through — despite the 65 inches of snow Erie, Pa., got in less than two days.
Greater Erie AA assistant general manager and dealer sales manager Ryan Russell says what his auction experienced in late December and early January was like something out of a Michael Bay film.
“Whatever movie you’re seeing, it just punches you in the face with its loudness, and this is what’s happening,” he said.
“Basically, the snowstorm was like living in a Michael Bay movie — it started snowing, and it just literally never stopped, and we ran out of room in town to put the snow in places.”
Though 10 inches of snow is nothing to sound the alarm for within the Erie community, the record lake effect snow beginning on the day after Christmas brought challenges to Greater Erie AA that it had never seen before.
On Dec. 25, the city of Erie saw 34 inches of snow, an all-time record for snowfall in any single day, reported the Erie Times-News.
Over 60 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1956, the previous snowfall record was 20 inches, according to the Pennsylvania state climatologist.
A satellite image of clouds causing lake effect snow over the Great Lakes. Photo credit: National Weather Service.
“There were two sales when we were hit with the snow storm, scheduled for Dec. 28 and Jan. 4,” explained assistant general manager and fleet/lease manager Chrissy Briggs.
Russell, who not only works in Erie, but has lived in the community for over 35 years, said when he was out snow blowing his driveway for about the seventh time within a 24-hour period, there were people driving down a main road on snowmobiles who stopped at houses that were not plowed.
He said they were to going up to doors and asking people inside “if they were okay, if they had power, if they needed to get to CVS for prescriptions.”
“They helped an elderly couple shovel their driveway out so they could get down to Pittsburgh to visit their newly born grandson,” Russell said. “You know it’s just, it was amazing to see the community come together and help each other.”
“And it was amazing to see our team up here do the same exact thing to try and have an auto auction. It’s our livelihood and we had to do it, and everybody came together,” he said.
What is lake effect snow?
What Greater Erie AA experienced was lake effect snow, which is common across the Great Lakes region during the late fall and winter, according to the National Weather Service.
It happens when just enough cold air that often comes from Canada moves across the vast open waters of the Great Lakes.
As cold air passes over unfrozen and relatively warm waters rises, the National Weather Service says clouds that produce around 2 to 3 inches of snow per hour can form and grow.
“What happened was the lake up here that we’re right next to was not frozen over. It is now finally, but at Christmas time it had not frozen over at all,” Russell explained.
When Lake Erie freezes over, he said the lake effect snow goes away. But when a storm comes across the lake, and the lake isn’t frozen, the storm can pick up more moisture from the lake.
The record-breaking storm in Erie picked up so much moisture from the lake that it couldn't move.
“And that’s how we ended up getting dumped on for two straight days,” Russell said.
“Normally it would just sweep across and spread all of the snowfall over a 75-mile wide radius. Well, it didn’t this time, it kept it to us at about 10 miles or 15 miles of the lake. It just didn’t move, for two days. It just kept picking up more and more moisture out of the lake.”
Snow emergency declared
During the historic snowfall event, Briggs said city officials declared a snow emergency for Erie and stressed that roads were “dangerous and impassable.”
“Ryan and I both grew up here, and you hear this weather forecast of about 10 to 18 inches, you think ‘okay, this is like another day, it’s really no big deal,’ because we know how to manage a foot or two feet, but not when you get it that quickly,” Briggs explained.
She said, “When they were calling for snow emergency, it was crazy — it was unbelievable; that’s what it was, it was unbelievable.”
Erie picked up more snow in less than 36 hours in this event than its previous 13-day snowstorm record, according to Briggs.
“We're used to this kind of stuff out here, and this was seriously a storm I’d never seen before in my life. I lived through it, and I can’t wrap my mind around how we got all the snow,” added Russell.
“It boggles my mind; it was like living in a movie — a disaster movie.”
The snow removal effort
When it came to the snow removal process, it truly required a highly driven team.
Leading up to the two sales scheduled around the historic snowfall event, Greater Erie AA had just a few days to plow through record-breaking inches of snow.
In addition to a snow plow that took on close to 55 hours of work in six days, more than 20 employees spent hours digging between vehicles to clear tailpipes to prep for the auction's post-Christmas sales, according to Briggs.
Though attendance was off as a result of the snowstorm, Greater Erie AA pulled 47 percent for its last sale of 2017 on Dec. 28.
“As much as we would have wanted that to be 67 or 65, we sold 47 percent,” Briggs said.
“Having a sale is better than not having anything,” she added.
While still experiencing snowfall, the auction’s next sale saw 52 percent of its vehicles sell.