Gale-force winds howling up the length of Lake Erie pushed the water level up almost 6 feet Wednesday at its eastern end, pounding the shoreline with towering waves that sent spray more than 50 feet into the air.
Winds gusted up to 60 mph at the airport weather station, and a 69-mph gust was recorded at the Buffalo Coast Guard Base as white water thundered over the harbor breakwaters.
Electrical power was restored to thousands of homes by late Wednesday or early today, and the National Weather Service held out hope for a slightly calmer, but much chillier, Halloween.
Nature's scariest special effect for trick-or-treat time, forecasters said, could be scattered snow showers and possible "localized heavier lake snows" in parts of Western New York. Temperatures will range from the 20s to about 40 degrees through the weekend.
"Halloweens have been real survival nights for the kids lately," said National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Niziol, recalling the 3-inch Halloween snowfall of 1993. "No ballerina outfits (tonight)."
Winds of 15 to 30 mph continued today, and forecasters said shoreline gusts of up to 40 mph remain possible. Lake levels have subsided, though, and wind and erosion warnings were lifted.
More than 15,000 customers of the region's two major utility companies were left in the dark as the winds brought down trees, tree limbs and power lines throughout the area. Utility crews worked through the night on restoring service.
The Town of Hamburg shoreline took a direct hit Wednesday as strong, steady winds pushed lake levels higher and increased the threat from storm-driven waves. Route 5 was closed between Big Tree and Camp roads for several hours, reopening shortly before 6 p.m.
Waves estimated at 12 to 14 feet battered the coastline during the peak of the storm. Residents of the low-lying Hoover Beach area in Hamburg were advised to evacuate, but most stayed.
No injuries were reported, and Hamburg police and fire officials said there were no problems this morning.
"It got as bad as I have ever seen it," said Mike Hoak, owner of Hoak's Restaurant on Lake Shore Road (Route 5) in the Town of Hamburg, where lake waters sprayed over the 50-foot-high roof peak and beneath the patio doors. A hole drilled in the floor of the restaurant drained the water to the basement, where a sump pump took care of it, Hoak said. Only one window was broken.
"Whoever built this building put it together the right way," Hoak said. The restaurant was closed should reopen today.
Has he ever thought of moving the business?
"It's a great spot," Hoak replied. "The water is your best friend, or it could be an enemy -- like it is now."
Winds were the enemy at the Buffalo Raceway in Hamburg, where a gust tore a large section of roof off a barn.
"We just lost a 50- to 60-foot section of one of the barn roofs," said Darryl Wood. "There was a gust, and it was gone. The wind just blew it into pieces."
In Buffalo, high winds forced the closing of the Skyway for part of Wednesday afternoon, and rising lake and Niagara River levels submerged all but the "emergency islands" of the Bird Island pier.
Several fallen trees and limbs in the city also prompted plans for an emergency response.
Mayor Masiello said Parks Commissioner Dan Durawa will use the Public Works and Streets departments, the Buffalo Sewer Authority and the Mayor's Impact Team to handle cleanup operations, while the Forestry Department takes care of trees that have destroyed or threaten destruction of private property.
The windstorm resulted in more than 300 calls to the Forestry Department. While most were routine, "at least five of the calls we've handled have involved trees or heavy limbs on houses," Masiello said.
In Depew, a broken tree limb came down on two police cars, cracking their windshields and causing some other damage.
Sunset Bay Fire Chief Kevin Weiskerger said there was some flooding near the lake, with a foot of water in some areas.
"This certainly has been one of the worst days for high winds and lakeshore flooding and erosion that we have seen in the past few years," said meteorologist Niziol.
The southwest winds ushered in a cold front, which dropped temperatures from a high of 62 degrees at about 10:30 a.m. to an overnight low of 35 degrees just before 7 a.m. today.
Today's high will be about 40, coupled with gusty winds. While the higher elevations south and east of Buffalo may get snow showers late today, the warmer lake temperatures should mean rain for lakeshore communities.