Warnings and watches dominate the local weather forecast, as Western New York braces for a one-two punch of freezing rain and swollen creeks over the next day.
One culprit is freezing rain, which could coat the northern half of the region with a layer of ice with the potential to down tree limbs and trigger power outages. Late Saturday, the National Weather Service reported freezing rain beginning to fall at Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The greatest risk for freezing rain, however, was aimed squarely at the state’s North Country. And by later in the evening, there were signs temperatures were beginning to drop to near freezing or below in Niagara, Orleans and Monroe counties, along the Lake Ontario shoreline.
“There could be some problems up in those areas. As you go north above the (Thruway), there is a potential for freezing rain,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Aaron Reynolds.
“But the biggest concern is going to be the flooding potential,” he said. “The creeks are rising, and a lot are right up to the bank – full.”
Late Saturday, “moderate” flooding was reported along flood-prone sections of Cazenovia, Cayuga, Buffalo and Cattaraugus creeks. All rivers, creeks and feeder streams throughout the eight-county region and beyond were subject to a National Weather Service flood warning, fueled by a steady rainfall, more than half an inch Saturday, with heavier rain expected early today. Some local road closings were reported late Saturday in the towns of Boston and Concord.
Meteorologists were busy monitoring creek levels, since rainfall had been ongoing throughout the day and up to 2 inches of rain was expected overnight in the Buffalo area and Southern Tier. “There’s still a fairly decent snowpack down in ski country that is currently being melted away by the rain, and the melting will compound the problem that rain is still falling,” Reynolds said.
Temperatures dropped throughout the day Saturday and were expected to remain near the freezing mark into this morning.
“Freezing rain is actually a super-cooled rain droplet,” National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Kelly said. “As the rain falls toward the ground, it hits an object below freezing – a tree branch, a windshield, a road or sidewalk – and freezes on contact.”
The Weather Service issued an ice-storm warning through noon today in northern Erie, Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties. At the same time, flood warnings remain in effect until 9 a.m.
The bulk of the freezing rain was expected to hit between 10 p.m. Saturday and 3 a.m. today, according to the weather service.
“It’s not going to be a good time to travel, overnight and into tomorrow,” Kelly said Saturday.
And with all the rain that’s been pelting the region, Kelly noted, it’s washing all the salt off the roads.
Meanwhile, National Grid marshaled a contingent of electrical line workers, tree trimmers, damage assessors and other support personnel in anticipation of the ice – especially in the St. Lawrence County and Champlain Valley areas.
In Dunkirk, city public works officials were keeping a close watch Saturday on the threat of localized flooding.
“Our wastewater treatment plant is struggling to keep up with all the excess storm drainage,” said Tony Gugino, director of the city’s Public Works Department. But treatment operators were optimistic the facility would be able to handle the rain.
In nearby Silver Creek, Cattaraugus, Walnut and Silver creeks were on the radar screen of Town of Hanover Highway Superintendent Steve D’Angelo, who also serves as community disaster coordinator.
The ice in the Cattaraugus Creek broke through Friday night, he said, adding that ice and debris appear to have made it out to Lake Erie, past the town’s boat launch and breakwaters. The Silver Creek Fire Department was on standby in case the ice dammed up on either side of the creeks.
D’Angelo wasn’t certain whether the newsmaking beaver dam, in a drainage area of Cattaraugus Creek off Routes 5 and 20 near Irving, survived the heavy water. The beavers have been a concern for several weeks. The heavy rain and snow may have washed away the dam, D’Angelo said.
Chautauqua Correspondent Susan Chiappone contributed to this report email: firstname.lastname@example.org