Tens of thousands of Western New Yorkers woke up with no power and extensive damage to their homes and businesses following a powerful windstorm that swept through the region.
Schools across the region, from Barker and Wilson to Orchard Park and Iroquois down to North Collins and Gowanda, announced they'd be closed today.
More than 83,000 customers remained without power as of 6 a.m. Thursday, according to National Grid and New York State Electric & Gas.
Farewell to willow taken down by winds in Wilson. pic.twitter.com/29X4cTPIWH
— Lou Michel (@LouMichelBN) March 9, 2017
The bulk of the damage occurred between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, when wind gusts were at their worst. Winds in Erie County reached 70 mph. Genesee County saw a gust of 76 mph. But the Rochester area was hammered even harder, recording a peak gust of 81 mph.
By the time the sun set, area winds had dropped into the 35-40 mph range.
"As far as the winds right now currently, in the Buffalo, that's what you'd usually see in the winter when it is windy," said National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Welch.
Sign of the times. Wind bent Cambria firehouse sign on Route 425 pic.twitter.com/xuP5i8uAuT
— Lou Michel (@LouMichelBN) March 9, 2017
The City of Niagara Falls issued an emergency weather statement shortly before 6 p.m. urging all residents to avoid unnecessary travel "until further notice" due to the numerous road closings, down trees and power lines, and power outages affecting traffic signals.
Damaging winds led Governor Andrew Cuomo to urge all New Yorkers to exercise extreme caution and avoid unnecessary travel as hazardous winds continue to move from west to east into the Finger Lakes.
"As we continue to monitor the situation closely, state agencies will work with all partners to keep New Yorkers safe," Cuomo said.
In addition, the Governor urges New Yorkers to use extreme caution when approaching traffic intersections as many traffic signals are not functioning due to power outages. When approaching an intersection during a power outage, treat the intersection as a four-way stop.
Cuomo also banned all empty tractor trailers from the New York State Thruway between exits 45 (Rochester – Victor – I-490) and exit 61, at the Pennsylvania state line, due to a high wind warning issued by the National Weather Service. This ban is also in effect for the I-190 Niagara Thruway.
The winds not only left thousands without power, but diverted flights, downed signs, bent church steeples, closed roadways and ripped a roof off of bowling alley.
Armor Duells West bound lanes are blocked. Crews are on the way.
Marshfield Road and Milestrip Road are open.
— Erie County DPW (@ErieCountyDPW) March 8, 2017
High winds forced seven flights from Southwest, Delta and American Airlines to be diverted from Buffalo Niagara International Airport to Albany, Syracuse and Pittsburgh and smaller surrounding airports shortly after 4 p.m.
"I just checked with the airport and through the course of the day sustained winds of 45 mph, with peak gusts of 66 mph. Therein lies the problem, obviously," said airport spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer. When you get peak gusts up to 66 mph that becomes problematic for an aircraft trying to land."
Bob Hamilton, meteorologist with the National Weather Service at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, said wind speeds are still high, but are expected to progressively and marginally drop off after sundown. The high wind advisory for Erie County is slated to expire at 10 p.m. Advisories in other parts of the state expire at midnight or later.
Reports continue to pour in regarding closed streets and power outages as higher-than-expected wind gusts buffeted the region. Here's the link to our map of some of the highest recorded gusts so far. Utility companies reported more than 200,000 power outages across the state by late afternoon.
— Jeff Rusack (@JeffRusack) March 8, 2017
Sheriff's deputies are also looking into the possibility that the wind was responsible for the derailment of a CSX freight train in Batavia at approximately 1:15 p.m. today. A total of 12 rail cars are involved in the incident. There no reports of any leaks or spills of any freight from the train, and no injuries to the crew. The train was headed from Chicago to Montreal.
— Qina Liu (@qinaliu) March 8, 2017
Troop A- State Route 98 Town of Alexander, Genesee County. Drive careful he due to extreme winds. pic.twitter.com/0DpjW26n9Y
— NewYorkStatePolice (@nyspolice) March 8, 2017
The State Department of Transportation closed the Skyway in Buffalo in both directions at 3 p.m. due to high winds that downed trees and left about 96,000 utility customers in Western New York without power.
Motorists seeking to access Route 5 westbound from Interstate 190 and Church Street should seek alternate routes, the DOT advised. Motorists traveling on Route 5 eastbound (inbound) will be directed to exit at Ridge Road.
Calls about downed utility poles, trees and power lines came in fast to the Erie County Sheriff's Office. A dispatcher, asked by a deputy over the radio if he had another location of downed wires, said "I can't even keep up with the calls."
Here's some Tweets from Western New Yorkers about the wind:
Annnnd lights at house just flashed, came back on, and flashed again. Happened a third time. Oh boy.
— Stephen T Watson (@buffaloscribe) March 8, 2017
This wind is destroying everything, except my marriage! Ha! thanks folks, your support means everything
— Marty Benzinger (@marty_benzinger) March 8, 2017
One minute, I'm just walking to my car after class. The next, I'm being taken out by a flying tree branch and a strong gust of wind.
— Hannah Cupples (@hancupples) March 8, 2017