The blizzard may be over, but keep a wary eye on the next weather event hitting the region today: the thaw.
A flood watch remains in effect through Sunday for much of Western New York, as the rain and 50-degree high temperature forecast for today will melt away that blizzard snow and raise the water levels of area creeks.
It has some folks a little jumpy, considering the widespread flooding that occurred during Christmas week is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
But this time around is a little different, and the flooding isn’t expected to be quite as severe.
“This will be more isolated,” said Dan Kelly, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo. “Isolated areas could receive a good flooding, but coverage-wise it won’t be as bad.”
A big reason for the flooding in late December was the additional two to three inches of rain that fell on top of the region’s wet snow pack.
Less than an inch of rain is expected to fall around the metro area this weekend, Kelly said.
Instead, much of the attention today and Sunday will be focused in areas where ice jams typically form on local creeks.
When the ice breaks free, it can jam up in spots along creeks and act as a dam for the water to build up behind it and cause flooding – a perennial problem in these parts.
Cayuga, Cazenovia and Buffalo creeks are the traditional trouble spots, Kelly said.
“We don’t get a lot of ice jams in Amherst, but they’re unpredictable,” said Thomas Ketchum, the town engineer in Amherst, “and this year I’ve seen stretches of creeks frozen I haven’t seen that way in maybe decades.”
The Village of Williamsville, for example, took pre-emptive action Friday by using an excavator to break up the ice cover on Ellicott Creek and push accumulated debris downstream.
“If we don’t keep the water flowing, it basically overflows the banks, and we end up with flooded basements, flooded properties and flooded roads downstream,” said Trustee Chris Duquin.
Ryan Maj, assistant public works crew chief, operated the heavy machinery on the creek’s bedrock at the dam just south of Main Street.
He used its bucket to nudge branches, 40-foot tree trunks and even a picnic table and trash can downstream toward Glen Falls.
“Almost immediately as he pulled the debris from the two middle sections of the dam, the water started to flow again, and you could see the level of the water go down,” Duquin said.
Highway crews have been doing the same on Tonawanda Creek in northeast Clarence, which saw some of the area’s worst flooding in December.
In Lancaster, workers have been hauling away mounds of snow and clearing out catch basins so the rain and melting snow can drain properly, said Highway Superintendent Daniel Amatura.
In Amherst, officials were warning residents not to drive through flooded roadways or go around road barricades, which was a problem during the December flooding.
In Buffalo, city officials aren’t anticipating any flooding but are taking precautions, including using the fire boat to break up ice on the Buffalo River.
The Edward M. Cotter has a hull strong enough to break up the six inches of ice that has formed, said City Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak.
Breaking the ice will help prevent flooding in Cazenovia Creek, which dumps into the Buffalo River, and can be susceptible to flooding if the Buffalo River is iced over.
“But at this time, the ice thickness and the amount of precipitation we’re going to get, we don’t anticipate any problems, but we will continue to monitor it,” he said.
In Williamsville on Friday, the ice dam on Ellicott Creek was at a critical point.
Before flowing through Williamsville, the creek meanders through north Cheektowaga, where homes in the Wehrle Drive area can be impacted if the dam is jammed, Duquin said. Plates installed to control flow through the dam were removed early in the winter so the maximum amount of water can move through, he said. Homeowners were encouraged to clear their basement floors of any valuable items.
“Our goal is to the best of our ability mitigate the flooding that is pending for the coming weekend,” Duquin said.
Public Works Crew Chief Ken Kostowniak rented the excavator from Hertz Rental after consulting Thursday with Mayor Brian Kulpa and emergency management officials from the Town of Amherst and Erie County. Swift water rescue teams from the Williamsville and Getzville fire departments were stationed nearby as Maj worked.
“This job’s going beautifully, clearing the dam,” Kostowniak said. “Water level is dropping. Everything’s opened up. We should be in good shape.”
In Silver Creek, Chautauqua County’s Department of Public Works brought in some heavy equipment to break up Lake Erie ice. Silver Creek Mayor Nick Piccolo said that the harbor area near the mouth of the creek at Jackson Street appeared to be broken up.
“It will still be cold for the polar bear swimmers,” Piccolo said of the 13th annual being held Sunday at Jackson Street to raise funds for charity.
Chautauqua Correspondent Susan Chiappone contributed to this report.