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Brief warm-up to bring rain, sleet

After enduring Monday, the coldest day of the winter so far, Western New Yorkers will get a break today from the deep freeze, but it won't last long.

Forecasters say we're due for spots of freezing rain this morning, on-and-off rain this afternoon, rain and sleet this evening and then snow again later tonight.

Temperatures are expected to shoot up into the mid-30s this afternoon, then fall back into the 20s. Highways are likely to be slippery as the cold settles back in tonight.

Officially, the National Weather Service reported an overnight low of 1 degree below zero Monday at its office in Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga.

Elsewhere, unofficial readings dropped down to minus 9 in Clarence Center, minus 8 in Wales, minus 7 in Elma and North Tonawanda, minus 6 in Niagara Falls and minus 3 in Williamsville, the weather service reported.

The lowest reading for a Jan. 17 in Buffalo is minus 16, set in 1982.

"It's been a lot of years since we've been super cold [like that]," Steve McLaughlin, National Weather Service meteorologist, said Monday.

But the below-zero reading was a sharp departure from this winter's previous coldest temperature -- a relatively balmy 10 degrees. Despite the cold and the snow, this winter has been free so far of really frigid temperatures.

"Everybody is wondering why the lake hasn't frozen," McLaughlin said. "For the lake to really ice up, you probably need some severe cold. The temperatures have been below normal, but not severely so, more in the 20s."

Meteorologists suspect the lake could be substantially frozen over by next weekend, largely because of the next cold front, which is due to arrive tonight and provide another stretch of temperatures well below freezing right through next weekend.

The coldest period in the seven-day forecast is expected to be Friday night and Saturday. Temperatures are supposed to drop to near zero Friday night and top out only in the teens Saturday.

The good news is that there's not much snow in the forecast. The ice covering the lake will drastically diminish the chance of lake-effect squalls for a while.

e-mail: danderson@buffnews.com and gwarner@buffnews.com

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