The Golden Snowball: It’s a ‘Threepeater’ for Buffalo! 

Author: Stephen Vermette, Geosciences Department – SUNY Buffalo State University

When all our snow finally melted, the winter of 2023-24 left Buffalo with the moniker ‘Snowiest City in New York State’! With this comes a trophy: The Golden Snowball. The title ‘Snowiest City” has been with us for the past three years (2021 through 2024 with seasonal snow totals of 97.4, 133.6, and 71.3 inches). Indeed, Buffalo has won the trophy for four of the past six years. Between 2021 and 2023 Buffalo also won the distinction of being the snowiest city in the country (this past year Buffalo came in third place behind Anchorage, Alaska and Boulder, Colorado). 

Of course, all of this is in fun and for bragging rights.  It’s a WNY thing. We live it. You know the phrase: “Buffalo Tough.” That’s the point. The Golden Snowball trophy is much more than just a tally of snow totals. Snow has been and continues to be very much a part of Buffalo and Western New York (WNY). It is engrained in our DNA, whether one is drawn by the beauty of those fluffy crystals and the opportunity to revel in it; or to curse the burdens of driving in and shoveling through. We are in awe of lake effect snow bands and the totals accumulated. Snow is unquestionably a Buffalo (WNY) identifier, along with wings (blue cheese and not ranch dressing), fish fry, and the Bills Mafia, to name but a few. Both the good and bad of snow is what binds our city and region and exemplifies why we are a “City (Region) of Good Neighbors.”  I cannot imagine a Buffalo and WNY without snow! 

While we wait for the Stanley Cup and the Vince Lombardi Trophy, let us celebrate what we do have. And that is snow! This is not always the view. In 2018-19 Buffalo won the trophy but became the first city to refuse it! Mayor Brown was not interested. To avoid a repeat refusal in 2022, I took the initiative to say ‘yes’, obtained the trophy, and serve as its custodian while in Buffalo. The Geosciences Department at SUNY Buffalo State is hosting the trophy on behalf of the City of Buffalo. The trophy is housed in a display case at Buffalo State University but doesn’t spend much time resting here. Most of the time it is on tour across WNY. The Golden Snowball trophy has appeared as a winter ambassador at Wing Fest, the Buffalo Museum of Science, Hamburg, West Seneca, and Buffalo’s Central library, Duff’s Famous Wings, The BFLO Store, Vidler’s 5 & 10, Russell’s Steaks, Chops, and More, 42 North Brewing Company, Becker Farms, as well as various post offices, cafés and winter festivals. Did you know that the trophy appeared on Off Beat Cinema (WBBZ-TV) and that the Buffalo Brewing Company proudly displayed the trophy and crafted a beer (Golden Snowbeer) in recognition of the award? The contest and trophy have been embraced by our community and I have had the privilege to meet so many good people. This write-up offers me the opportunity to thank the many that “get it” and have had fun reveling in its silliness. 

Golden Snowbeer, made with WNY Snow.

While referring to ‘silliness’, there may be deeper meaning to our winning streak. Since the award’s inception, the City of Syracuse has dominated the competition. However, recently other cities have won more frequently and none-more than Buffalo. Syracuse is experiencing a snow drought. Does this represent a change? Is the contest a barometer of our snow future? Buffalo typically takes an early lead in the snow competition (often because of our tendency to quickly pile up a lot of snow in a matter of hours and days), only to be surpassed by Syracuse’s steadier accumulation. Our nemesis has been the freezing of Lake Erie (Lake Erie is shallower than Lake Ontario and more likely to freeze over, shutting down our lake effect machine).

Duff’s Famous Wings pays homage, in their unique way, to the golden snowball trophy.

While appearing counterintuitive, is it possible that in a warming world Lake Erie will freeze less often and thus allow the lake effect machine to crank on stronger and longer through the winter to keep our snow totals on the high side? And, of course, garner more Buffalo firsts for the Golden Snowball contest. Time will tell.

Having won the contest yet again this past winter, the trophy will be with us and on tour for yet another year. My hope this coming year is to solicit the art community to freshly interpret the trophy’s legacy. I’m open to discussing ideas. Please check out our Buffalo web link at:

A Brief History

The Golden Snowball Award is a contest between five cities in Upstate New York – Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, and Albany. The snow contest awards the Golden Snowball trophy to the city that receives the most snowfall over a snow season. It is awarded yearly.

The snow contest began during the 1976-1977 (included the Blizzard of ’77) when meteorologists were astonished at Buffalo’s 199.4 inches and Peter Chaston, of the Rochester office of the National Weather Service (NWS), dreamed up the contest and slapped together a trophy made up of a ball sprayed with gold paint. It was a friendly competition orchestrated by five NWS Offices. Aside from the trophy the press took an active role in keeping the contest alive and does so even today. There was even talk of related festivals and parades. 

The award went dormant in the mid-1990s with the modernization of the NWS and the closing of the Rochester and Syracuse weather offices. While the Buffalo weather office was at the time asked to oversee the contest, the NWS higher ups apparently said no. So, the contest was reborn in 2002 as a city-to-city contest, in part, by efforts of Patrick DeCoursey (oracle of the Golden Snowball), Sean Kirst (a reporter who understands the true meaning of the Snowball), and Dave Sage and Tom Niziol (meteorologists with a whimsy nature), among others. To this day, Patrick DeCoursey manages a website (usually only operational during the winter months) to tally snow totals and to promote the contest.

No one owns the trophy. Mayoral offices of winning cities receive temporary possession of the Golden Snowball trophy. The original trophy went missing during the contest’s dormant phase (the scuttlebutt is that it was lost in Buffalo?) and was replaced by today’s trophy (created and donated by A1 Trophy shop in Syracuse).

The Golden Snowball contest: It’s a threepeater!

The Golden Snowball contest: It’s a threepeater!

The Golden Snowball contest: It’s a threepeater!

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