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Rain makes 4th a bit of a fizzle Diehard devotees across WNY persist in celebrating, though attendance sags

This Fourth of July, hearts beating true for the red, white and blue were beating under raincoats, umbrellas and tents.

Cloudy skies and rainy weather kept many away from area Independence Day festivities Wednesday, as residents struggled to celebrate despite the constant drizzle.

"Only our true-blue, hard-core, dedicated members are here," said Mike Krolikowski, secretary of the Cheektowaga Lions Club, who served at the Lions' barbecue that follows the town's Independence Day parade each year.

The soggy conditions threatened the fireworks displays planned for nightfall, but the rain cleared up in time for most shows to go off as scheduled.

Only two communities, Olean and Niagara Falls, postponed their shows until Friday night.

The rain, although not particularly heavy, was fairly constant throughout the day, enough to give most areas of Western New York between a quarter inch and a half inch of accumulation.

"In some isolated pockets, it could have been a little heavier," said Mike Pukajlo at the National Weather Service's Buffalo office.

The daylong rains limited attendance at the binational Friendship Festival and at some municipal celebrations.

At Cheektowaga's carnival and parade, Lions Club member Frank Beeman said there normally would be about four times as many people lined up for hot dogs and hamburgers.

But Wednesday, only a handful of people sat under one tent, and 30 crowded under the other.

On the fairground of Cheektowaga Town Park, the rides were waiting to be ridden. But few lined up for a chance to hop aboard the Ferris wheel or on the mini roller-coaster.

In Lancaster, a small crowd gathered for the parade and festival.

Depew Police Officer Rick Starzynski put on his uniform and marched along the parade route with his fellow officers this year, just like he has done for the last 16 years.

"As long as there are people, we march," he said. "But it's definitely better when the sun is shining."

Ron Tamburlin of Orchard Park has been coming to the parade for more than a decade with his wife and son, now 13.

"It's tradition," he said. "There could be a huge storm, and we'd still celebrate."

At the Friendship Festival in Riverside Park, a fireworks display and rides and games brought a slow but growing stream of people to the park.

Anjelina Coronado, 23, was waiting in line for some rides with her 5-year-old son.

She said the park might seem quiet now, but "it's gonna get crowded tonight." she said.

On Geary Street, Jack Stewart, the area's most famous amateur pyrotechnician, was coping with the double blow of soggy weather and intense law enforcement scrutiny.

Stewart, who throws a lavish party every Fourth of July on his South Buffalo street, attracted the attention of police after discussing his illegal fireworks in Monday's Buffalo News.

Tuesday, Buffalo police took away his street-closing permit.

Wednesday, Stewart and a small group of friends and family waited out a steady rain under a tent on his front yard.

Two grills, a wooden band stage, a cotton-candy maker and a deflated bounce house sat waiting to be used.

"The night is still young," he said at about 6:45 p.m.

Just down the street, two marked Buffalo police cars sat at the corner of Geary and Seneca streets, and a police captain in an unmarked car made occasional circles around the block.

About 100 feet away from the police cars, a group on the other side of Seneca periodically set off clutches of firecrackers and at least one rocket. The officers didn't react at all.

After the rain let up, Stewart got the music and food going, and more people showed up for the party. And a few firecrackers did go off, though Stewart told The News he doesn't know where they came from.

The storm that soaked the region with about a half inch of rain Wednesday interrupted the area's bone-dry start to summer.

The Weather Service recorded only six days of measurable rain in June, with the monthly total of 1.82 inches being less than half the normal monthly total.

"We're getting close" to drought conditions, said Pukajlo of the Weather Service.

Dryer, warmer weather should return for the weekend, he said.

"We've got showers in the forecast through Friday, but right now, it looks like the weekend's going to be dry, with highs in the upper 70s Saturday and mid to upper 80s Sunday," he said.

News Staff Reporter John F. Bonfatti contributed to this report.

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