The real impact of Hurricane Sandy – turned “Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy” by the time it hit Western New York – will be realized this morning, when daybreak reveals just how damaging this “superstorm” proved to be for area residents.
What was known after darkness descended early Monday evening was that thousands were already without power, mostly in the Southern Tier counties of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany. Hundreds more were in the dark in Erie and Niagara counties, by utility company estimates.
Crews were working to restore service where they could, and were expected to do so in many areas before midnight. But, even as power was restored to some areas, others were going dark.
Monday evening the wind started picking up, blowing a light rain that struck the skin like tiny needles for anyone caught outdoors.
The storm combined the ferocity of Sandy, which made landfall about 8 p.m. near Atlantic City, N.J., with a cold front from the west, as forecasters late last week had projected it would.
The merging of the weather systems resulted in Sandy making landfall not as an official hurricane, weather service officials said.
What happened, according to Jon Hitchcock, weather service meteorologist, was that just before Sandy came ashore, it turned into a very strong low pressure system even though winds were clocked at a hurricane-force 80 mph. That’s because the system wasn’t drawing its power from tropical heat.
“It’s really a matter of semantics,” said Hitchcock. “The structure of the storm changed. It became a very intense low pressure system. You can think about it as a really intense nor’easter.”
But that didn’t mean it had lost any of its punch.
A peak wind gust of 43 mph was reported about 10 p.m. at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. There was a gust of 53 mph reported in Youngstown Monday night and 59 mph at the Dunkirk lighthouse about 11 p.m.
As of 11 p.m., National Grid had reports of 1,987 customers in the dark in Cattaraugus County followed by 968 in Allegany County and 422 in Chautauqua County. Additionally, there were 133 out of power in Niagara County, 50 in Orleans and 26 in Erie County.
National Grid spokesman Steve Brady said crews were out late Monday fighting to restore power to those who lost it. But, as the night wore on and winds picked up, it was looking like crews were going to have to wait until morning on some jobs.
“We almost have to for safety’s sake for the crews,” Brady said, explaining that workers in bucket loaders do not deploy in winds above 30 mph. “It’s just a recipe for an accident to happen.”
Brady said if the utility received a significant number of outages overnight, it would likely do damage estimates and be ready to go at sunrise with repair crews.
Brady said local National Grid crew did receive some help from outside – 31 states in all, along with two provinces, are represented across New York and New England to deal with the storm – but no local workers were shipped out of the area as of late Monday.
“We actually started to go into storm mode five to six days ago,” Brady said. “If there is a ‘positive’ to a hurricane, they rarely surprise you.”
Meanwhile, NYSEG had 46 customers in Erie County out of power along with 1,889 in Wyoming County. But, just a little farther east, it reported more than 8,000 customers dark in the Rochester area earlier Monday.
Dozens of schools and organizations across the region – including in Amherst, Cheektowaga, Hamburg and Orchard Park – have closed or cancelled classes or events for today.
Warnings had increased from the weather service as Monday progressed.
The most urgent in Western New York was along the Lake Ontario shoreline, where the weather service had posted a lakeshore flood warning in Niagara and Orleans counties calling for “strong north to northeast winds” producing “very high waves and rising water along the south shore of the lake.”
The warning was to remain in place until 8 a.m. today. Flooding was likely to occur in bays and inlets and, weather service officials reported, “rising water levels in harbors may break boats from their moorings.”
Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour reported late Monday from the county’s emergency center that it was faring well. There was some initial concern gusty northerly winds could produce up to a 19-foot storm surge on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.
The most serious incident seemed to occur when a surfer was removed from Lake Ontario by sheriff’s officials in the Wilson harbor about 5:30 p.m.
There were, however, several storm-related incidents, including:
• Trees down across roads in the towns of Gasport and Somerset.
• Possible transformer fire in the area of 3672 Lockport Road in the Town of Wheatfield.
• Possible lightning strike on Lockport Road west of Shawnee Road.
Other local storm reports reported by the weather service late Monday included tree limbs down in Cold Spring; a tree down on Route 242 in Machias; power lines down on Rieter Road, East Aurora; a tree felled on Hopkins Road, Amherst; trees down throughout Allegany County in the communities of Allentown, Alma, Wellsville, Whitesville, Scio, Willing and Randolph; a tree down at Richmond Avenue and West Ferry Street, downtown Buffalo; and trees down in Ripley and Maple Springs in Chautauqua County.
News Staff Reporter Matt Gryta contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org