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Snow aims a parting shot deep in April; 5 to 9 inches expected in Buffalo, suburbs

Time to trade the mower for the blower. The winter that wasn't in Western New York might have something special in store for us, after all.

Forecasters are predicting 5 to 9 inches of snow today and Tuesday for Buffalo and its suburbs. The Southern Tier could see a foot to 16 inches.

Western New Yorkers who became accustomed to an unusually mild winter and spring will now be forced to dig around their garages for the snow removal equipment they already stowed away.

"It's just an odd spring. Everything is just a bit off kilter," said arborist Joseph G. Territo of North Tonawanda.

The storm, fed by a nor'easter climbing up the East Coast, has the potential to dump more snow on Western New York than any other storm this season.

The previous high snowfall was on Jan. 13, when 6.4 inches fell at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, said Shawn Smith, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo.

With temperatures in the low 30s, the snow is expected to be wet and heavy, bringing with it the potential for falling tree limbs and power lines.

A steady rain was expected to change over to snow some time after 2 a.m. today and create more difficult driving conditions for the morning rush hour commute.

Unseasonably mild weather over the past several months had many people pulling out the patio furniture and barbecue grills far earlier than usual. Area marinas and golf courses were open already in March, when the National Weather Service recorded five straight days of record high temperatures, including an 82 degree high on March 21 that was the highest temperature ever recorded during March in Western New York.

Many lawns already have been cut at least once, if not three or four times.

Even the City of Buffalo's Department of Public Works, Parks & Streets recently moved a large salt pile from the Broadway barns to Furhmann Boulevard to make way for mowing equipment.

But Public Works Commissioner Steven Stepniak anticipated little trouble handling the late-season wintry blast.

City plows have been prepped and are ready to go, and salt spreaders were to begin dropping up to 2,000 tons of salt on city streets at 11 p.m. Sunday, said Stepniak.

Stepniak acknowledged Sunday that his department was transitioning to a spring and summer posture, moving winter equipment into storage.

"This is usually a safe time of year, but you never really put it away. You put it on standby," he said.

Just Friday, the area was basking in 77 degrees and sunshine.

The heavy, wet snow, along with predicted high winds, could be trouble for some area trees, said David Colligan, a local tree expert and former co-chairman of Re-Tree Western New York.

"A lot of the hazard trees will come down again," Colligan said.

Hazard trees are often rotted in the middle and cannot support the extra weight of a heavy snow. But healthy trees should be fine, even with heavy snows up to 18 inches, said Colligan.

The surprise October storm of 2006 damaged so many healthy trees because the trees still had full canopies of leaves. Limbs and whole trees collapsed under the weight of more than 20 inches of snow trapped in the leaves and branches.

That scenario is unlikely to be repeated with this storm because most mature trees do not have full leaves yet, added Territo.

"I don't think it's enough leaf cover to worry about," he said. "We might be OK. I'm hoping. We're all watching this, just hoping for the best."

Trees also tend to have more elasticity in the spring than in the fall, Territo said.

Smaller trees and shrubs with more leaf coverage might be more susceptible to damage, but the snow can usually be shaken from the branches to ease the weight and prevent limbs from breaking, he said.

Before it blew into the region overnight, the storm already played havoc along the East Coast. Pro baseball games were postponed Sunday in New York and Washington. The space shuttle Enterprise's scheduled arrival in New York City was pushed back. An Earth Day celebration at a park in Virginia Beach, Va., was canceled.

David Stark, a National Weather Service meteorologist in New York City, said 2 1/2 to three inches of rain were expected in the city, with wind gusts of 25-30 mph.

From Philadelphia north through southern New England, up to 4 inches of rain were predicted, with the heaviest downpour expected early today, when the storm system begins to push into Western New York, western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, where forecasters say will see 4 inches of snow and more.

The snow in the Buffalo Niagara region is expected to wrap up by Tuesday afternoon, when milder temperatures turn the precipitation back to rain.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com