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Winter grasps region in icy fist

A wintry mix from Lackawanna northward encased much of Western New York under a shell of ice by the time residents awoke Monday morning.

By the time dusk set in, Old Man Winter was at work on the rest of the region, as well.

Cold air streamed southward from Canada as the day progressed Monday, leveling out regional temperatures that had differed by as much as 20 degrees from north to south earlier in the day. By nightfall, freezing drizzle was coating area roadways, making travel treacherous. Forecasters called for the precipitation to turn over to snow early this morning.

"Our free ride is over," said Bill Hibbert, National Weather Service meteorologist. "It's time to get back to rock salt and snowblowers."

Snow showers are likely today, with high temperatures only expected to be in the 20s. The mercury will dip into the teens tonight. Lake-effect snow is possible tonight and into Wednesday for the Southern Tier and areas east of the region.

"We're really going into the deep freeze for a good part of the week," Hibbert said.

Monday's weather was a study in contrasts. While residents from metro Buffalo northward contended with ice and scattered power failures, those in the southern half of the region grappled with heavy rain, swollen creeks and flooded roadways.

Temperatures in Buffalo and Niagara Falls stood at 32 degrees at 10 a.m. By comparison, Jamestown reported 52 degrees.

National Weather Service spotters reported anywhere from one-tenth to two-thirds of an inch of ice from Niagara to Wyoming counties.

Ice-coated tree limbs in Niagara County started falling just after 10 a.m., pulling down power lines and knocking out power to thousands of homes, authorities reported.

The City of Niagara Falls was hardest-hit. Fire Chief William MacKay said his department received the largest volume of calls from the LaSalle and DeVeaux sections of the city.

City police Lt. William Szcyzykutowicz said that police officers and dispatchers were stressed and that things were chaotic as about 300 calls came in before 4 p.m. and continued into the night.

"And everyone wants a police officer right away," Szcyzykutowicz said.

Authorities also received calls in Lockport, Pendleton, Lewiston, Wheatfield and the Town of Niagara -- mostly because of downed trees, fallen power lines and lost power. Power also went out in Wurlitzer Park in North Tonawanda.

Most superintendents said they would wait until this morning to decide whether to cancel classes, but Lockport officials decided to close schools today, and Niagara Falls Superintendent Carmen A. Granto said Falls schools would be closed for students and teachers.

By about 9 p.m. Monday, Niagara County still had more than 1,400 residents without power, according to estimates by National Grid. There were nearly 1,700 National Grid customers in darkened homes in Genesee County and more than 500 more in Orleans County.

Icy conditions were blamed for numerous fender-benders and cars spinning off roadways, authorities reported. Collisions and crashes were reported on the Kensington Expressway, Milestrip Road in Hamburg, and on the Niagara Section of the Thruway.

Nancy A. Fischer and Pam Kowalik of the News Niagara Bureau and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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