The warning sign Sunday at the Small Boat Harbor read “Danger Thin Ice.”
Yet with the noon-time temperature hitting 45 degrees, at least 50 happy fishermen were scattered over the ice surface.
Some were seeking peace and solitude. Some were looking for a few bluegills.
All the fishermen and women appeared hooked on a sport that started 4,000 years ago in the fjords of Finland.
At 11 a.m., Jim Franklin, 38, was getting a late start on his fishing day. The South Buffalo father of two children – 17 months and four weeks – came for bluegills and calico bass. He said he was not worried about the above-normal temperatures.
“Five inches of good ice will hold a lot of weight,” Franklin said, offering to share his homemade venison jerky. “Plus I have three dogs and my wife goes crazy, so I don’t get to leave much.”
Meteorologist Bill Hibbert of the National Weather Service office in Cheektowaga said ice in that section of the Small Boat Harbor is pretty much sheltered.
“It takes a long time to melt that ice,” Hibbert said. “You don’t have the waves breaking the ice up and mixing warmer water from below, although you will see slush and surface-melt on the ice. The ice is there and there is no reason for it to melt. It has been cold enough to re-form after the rain we had. Don’t forget it was 2 degrees on Christmas Day.”
And on New Year’s Eve it will feel like it’s zero for the ball drop downtown, said Hibbert.
As for holiday precipitation, look for it in the form of snow.
“It looks like we’ll end the year on Tuesday with a couple of inches in the city before it settles south,” Hibbert said. “Everybody should get a good coating of snow before they ring in the New Year.”
The temperature for First Night festivities may be close to 20, with temperatures by midnight falling to 12-15 degrees. Wind chills will be in the single digits and drop to zero by midnight, he said.
“We’re going to start the new year on very cold note,” said Hibbert, noting the westerly winds that gust downtown. “Bundle tightly,” he warned.
Hibbert predicted the polar weather will linger through the week.
“Once we’re into it, we’re into it,” he said. “We probably won’t see the freezing mark until early next week. Until then expect highs in the teens through Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. And then back in the 20s on Saturday.”
It is not unusual for cold outbreaks to ring in the new year, said the meteorologist.
“November is more changeable. December settles into the cold,” Hibbert said. “By January we’re deep in the meteorological winter.”
The temperature for this time of year averages in the mid-20s, according to the National Weather Service.
“This year we have a departure,” Hibbert said. “We’ll be running 15 degrees below normal. Yes, that’s quite a bit below but not out of the ordinary.”
The immediate forecast calls for rain in some areas to switch over to lake-effect snow overnight. The snow, Hibbert said, will barely extend to the Southtowns before settling into ski country.
Temperatures will begin to fall from the 40s to mid-30s by 7 p.m., followed by a wind shift that will send them even lower. Hibbert forecast today’s lows in the mid-teens, which will be “quite a shock” compared to Sunday.
“We’ll barely see 20 degrees, with most places remaining in the teens,” he said.
Snow showers were expected for the morning commute, with total snowfall today ranging from 1 to 3 inches across the Southern Tier.
The cold news is good news for ice fishermen, who come prepared to deal with arctic conditions.
Late Sunday morning, John Gillingham wore three T-shirts, two hooded sweatshirts and a coverall. The 39-year-old resident of Lancaster was meeting his brother on the ice to fish for perch.
“It’s a little warm,” he admitted, holding a plastic bag full of minnows purchased from a bait shop on Niagara Street.
Not all fishermen use live bait at this time of year. Franklin opted for soft plastic baits – for good reason.
“Because I’m not sticking my hands in the bucket and getting them cold,” he explained as he put a pair of ice creepers on his boots. “You’re crazy trying to get a minnow out.”