As the New York City area tries to dig itself out from the combined hurricane and nor’easter that tossed a 13-foot surge of seawater at that region, Buffalo Niagara coped mostly with a nasty weather night and early morning punctuated by heavy rain and wind, some scattered cases of downed trees and a few thousand – not tens of thousands – residents losing electrical power.
What a difference 400 miles can make.
“Count your blessings,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Wood said shortly after 6 a.m. today. “It’s the difference between being well, well inland and next to the ocean.”
That’s not to say that the storm didn’t inconvenience hundreds of thousands of local residents. Virtually all schools were closed today, and many civic activities were canceled Monday night, as the region braced for the worst possible scenario – widespread downed trees, major power failures, dangerous wind gusts and occasional flooding.
The Buffalo area did chalk up a record rainfall for Monday, Oct. 29, with 1.42 inches recorded at the National Weather Service office in Cheektowaga. Another 0.2 inches fell from midnight to 6 a.m. today.
But both the sustained winds and gusts fell significantly short of forecasters’ worst fears.
“It looks like the strongest winds were generally close to the lake, 59 [mph] in Dunkirk and 45 at the Buffalo Coast Guard Station,” Wood said. “The strongest winds weren’t quite as widespread [as expected]. They were mostly confined to areas near the lakeshore.”
Farther inland, the highest recorded wind gusts included 43 mph readings at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Sustained winds generally were measured at about 25 mph throughout the region, somewhat short of the expected 30-to-40-mph range.
“It’s generally what we expected,” Wood said of the storm. “We had strong winds, with some trees knocked down, and we had some heavy rain... The winds weren’t necessarily quite as strong as we expected.”
But those winds were strong enough to topple enough trees and power lines to leave several thousand area households without electrical power. Between 7:30 and 8 a.m. today, 3,769 National Grid residences and 972 New York State Electric & Gas households still lacked power in the eight counties of Western New York. At the height of the storm earlier in the morning, the total apparently remained well under 10,000, out of hundreds of thousands of local homes.
“Clearly, it was not as severe as we were told it could have been,” Stephen F. Brady, media relations manager for National Grid, said this morning. “We were prepared for a much heavier impact. But no complaints that it didn’t happen.”
At daybreak today, National Grid crews still were assessing the damage and the threat of high winds affecting their efforts to restore power.
“We expect to have most of them back today,” Brady said of the affected households.
In keeping with the two-cities theme, even Buffalo and Rochester had vastly different experiences from the spin-off effects of Hurricane Sandy. At least 20,000 households in Monroe County were without power early today, more than twice the combined outages in the eight counties of Western New York.
The heavy winds and rain also prompted Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo late Monday to reduce the speed limit to 45 on the mainline Thruway between Hamburg and the Pennsylvania line, along with the Niagara Thruway. The normal speed limits were restored by mid-morning today.
Throughout Western New York today, motorists reported widely scattered incidents of downed trees and large puddles hampering traffic, including a tree blocking Borden Road in Lancaster. Batavia also reported several trees down.
In one case, emergency crews responding to a downed tree blocking Hopkins Road in Amherst found that a zealous resident armed with a chain saw already had cut up the offending tree.
The storm does provide one slight consolation for area residents. With the heavy winds hitting at the end of October, many homeowners will find that they can rake most of their leaves once the weather clears, rather than having to rake them every few days over the next couple weeks.
Trouble spots still remain today, especially along Cayuga Creek in Lancaster and Alden. That area remains under a flood warning this morning, with forecasters expecting low-lying areas along the creek to experience some flooding.
As of noon today, the city of Buffalo had logged about 20 calls about downed trees, including a large maple that struck two houses on Fairfield Avenue, and reports of trees that fell on houses on South Park Avenue, Montana Avenue and Reed Street, officials said during a briefing at City Hall.
The city also received seven utility calls for either blown transformers or downed wires, city spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge stated early this morning. There also were four calls for minor street flooding, but no street closures, he added.
“We were very fortunate,” said Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak, adding there was very minimal property damage in the city.
About 212 houses in the city were without power, at Kimberly Avenue and Abbott Road and in Masten Park, but National Grid expects to have power restored by 2 p.m., Stepniak said.
In Niagara County, more than 1,000 people remained without power shortly after 9 a.m. today, according to the National Grid. That largest outages occurred in Niagara Falls and the Town of Niagara, where a total of 642 residents were without service. Power outages affected 232 customers in North Tonawanda, 49 in Royalton, 26 in Wheatfield and 98 in Wilson. National Grid said it was working to restore power in most of these areas.
Rain and winds brought a tree down on a house at 4687 Lake Road in Wilson early this morning, heavily damaging both the inside and outside of the single-family home, according to Niagara County sheriff’s deputies.
Residents Amy M. Spaulding, 42, and Kathleen A. Lewandowski, 83, were not injured in the 4:30 a.m. incident, according to sheriff’s reports. The side and roof of the house were damaged and storm water poured into the living room through a broken skylight.
In Niagara Falls, a large limb fell on a stockagde fence in the 8200 block of Lindbergh Avenue just before 8 p.m. Monday. And in the 200 block of 75th Street, half of a large city-owned tree fell and caused three power pole lines to come down, which also brought down a power pole on a garage and also caused another power pole at 76th Street and Perry Avenue to fall at 10:26 p.m. Monday.
Elsewhere, downed lines and trees and branches across roads were being reported this morning, as well as some scattered road flooding, but most Niagara County schools were open.
While the brunt of Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy appears to have passed through Western New York, don’t expect the lousy weather to end.
Rain is expected to pelt the region through at least Thursday night, with between a quarter and a half inch of rain possible today and wind gusts of up to 37 mph. And you won’t even find the term “partly sunny” in the forecast until Saturday.
News Staff Reporters Jill Terreri and Nancy A. Fischer contributed to this report.