A huge oak tree lies on its side with its roots reaching almost to the second floor in the backyard of a house on Woodland Drive in Orchard Park Thursday, March 9, 2017. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Crews from the region's two electrical power companies continued against the clock early Friday to restore power to thousands of homes and businesses that were knocked off the grid following a wild windstorm Wednesday.

The biggest concern was rapidly dipping temperatures.

"We're a little concerned about the weather," said Stephen Brady, a spokesman for National Grid. "More than a little, we're very concerned about the weather with temperatures dropping, obviously for our crews' safety. They've been working long hours. We're also concerned for our customers' sake."

Brady said, by Friday night, power should be restored 90 percent of its customers who lost power in Wednesday's storm.

"We  expect to be very close to done late tomorrow. There's always those few, for different reasons, might have to carry over, but we're also going to be in a position today to start moving resources to our hardest hit areas as we wrap up in the metro area and down in the Southern Tier, particularly," Brady said.

"As the last customers in those areas get picked up we'll shift resources into that Genesee region to help out there," he added.

Meanwhile, Rachel Buchanan, a spokeswoman for New York State Electric & Gas, said power to most of its customers should be restored by this afternoon.

Nearly 35,000 National Grid and New York State Electric & Gas customers in the eight Western New York counties still were without power early Friday.

Erie County still had 11,317 customers without power after 6:30.m. Hard-hit areas included the town and village of Orchard Park and the Town of Marilla. Power to most homes in Erie County was expected to be back by midnight Thursday; however, some customers in Newstead aren’t expected to come back up until 10 p.m. tonight, by utility estimates.

Niagara County had 4,408 customers without power as of early Friday. Hardest hit were the towns of Newfane, Royalton, Lewiston, Hartland, Niagara and Porter.

In Wyoming County, 4,938 were still without power early Friday. Orleans and Genesee counties had 7,551 and 6161, respectively.

Schools from Barker to Gowanda were closed Thursday as the result of the massive wind storm. Schools in Lockport, Batavia and East Aurora are among those that also will be closed Friday.

National Grid and New York State Electric & Gas say its customers may have to wait more than a day for power to be restored. It is a "multi-day event," the utilities said, offering no specific estimates for restoration times.

In other developments:

  • The Niagara County Courthouse is closed today, as well as several other Niagara County office buildings. Closed departments include the county attorney, county clerk, commissioner of jurors, district attorney, legislature clerk, historian, public defender and pistol permitting.
  • Some roads remain closed as utility crews make repairs. (Full list of road closures)
  • Three sites are offering free bottled water and dry ice until 5 p.m.

[Related: Tips to avoid getting scammed with wind damage repairs]

Power failures

National Grid crews were still assessing damages across Western New York, where about 70,000 of its customers remained without power Thursday morning, said spokesman Stephen F. Brady.

The utility is honing on expected restoration times, "but it is clear that this is a multi-day event," Brady wrote in an email.

Here's a look at outage figures from National Grid and NYSEG:

 

WNY Power Outages as of 11:15 p.m.
Outages
National Grid
NYSEG
Total
Erie
623
10,694
11,317
Niagara
3,877
531
4,408
Orleans
7,551
0
7,551
Genesee
6,154
7
6,161
Wyoming
2,216
2,722
4,938
Chautauqua
25
98
123
Cattaraugus
288
28
316
Allegany
4
0
4
TOTAL
20,738
14,080
34,818

 

Brady said the hardest hit areas appeared to be north and east of Buffalo, particularly in Niagara, Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming counties. The utility had crews in the field Wednesday night, but were still taking new outage calls.

"I think the high winds lasted longer than anyone anticipated," he said.

The utility expects to have about 1,100 workers in the field by midday and should have at least some broad estimates about restoration later Thursday, he said.

Both the National Grid and NYSEG websites don't list expected restoration times for most of the places with the biggest outages.

A NYSEG spokeswoman, when asked which areas might be able to expect their electricity to be restored the soonest, said the utility is still in "make safe mode," meaning it is still assessing. Restoration efforts begin with transmission lines and substations, and then move down to individual customers without power.

"Definitely a multi-day event," spokeswoman Rachel T. Buchanan wrote in an email.

The Town of Eden sent a message to its residents that National Grid has informed the town any customer without power should expect to have it restored by late Friday.

At the peak, about 99,000 National Grid customers in Western New York were without power. The total number of customers affected by outages so far is about 117,000, according to Brady.

Colder temperatures

For today, highs will be in the mid 30s, though it gets colder from here.

The temperatures Thursday night and Friday will drop to the mid 20s, with the lows Friday night expected in the low teens, according to the National Weather Service.

High temperatures on Saturday are only expected in the upper teens, the weather service said.

School closures

School districts across the region were closed Thursday, including Albion, Alden, East Aurora, Iroquois, Lewiston-Porter, Lockport, Medina, Niagara Falls, Newfane, North Collins, Orchard Park, Springville-Griffith, Starpoint and Wilson.

The cleanup continues

Howard Luff of Lockport came home with his wife from playing cards in Ransomville on Wednesday afternoon to find a 35-foot maple tree crashed into his Morrow Avenue house. Nobody was home at the time.

The house sustained some damage but is still habitable. Luff said he spoke with a city official last Friday about having the tree cut down that's been standing in front of his house for at least 55 years. Once the tree fell, he could see how rotten it had become.

"It's going to save me from raking a lot of leaves," he said.

Ralph Grizanti of R&R Door headed out to make garage door repairs Thursday morning from his business in Wilson. By shortly after 7 a.m., he already had two jobs repairing bent garage doors.

"Yesterday, we installed one garage door in the morning, but decided to cancel our afternoon job because we couldn't keep our feet on the ground," Grizanti said.

Grizanti described a problem many people with automatic garage doors are having with the power failures.

"People don't have the knowledge on how to open their electric garage doors when the power's out," he said.

Mark Lendway of Cambria went looking for weather information Wednesday afternoon when the wind damage got personal.

"I was laying on the couch watching The Weather Channel Wednesday afternoon to find out what the peak gusts were when I heard this cracking and this big thump," Lendway said. "It was the roots to one of my Colorado Blue Spruces in the front yard falling."

Wicked wind

Wednesday's fiercest wind gusts – in a winter full of them – reached over 70 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

High winds toppled trees, signs and power lines Wednesday afternoon.

And it did more than just tumble large old trees, rip shingles from roofs and down power lines across Western New York. It also:

  • Forced the closure of the Skyway, and led multiple districts to close schools today in the aftermath of the storm.
  • Tipped over empty tractor-trailers.
  • Restricted travel in Niagara Falls.
  • Forced flights to be diverted away from Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

In addition, it may have even been responsible for the derailment of a freight train in Batavia.

[PHOTO GALLERY: The beauty of high winds on Lake Erie]

And, for Jasmine Acosta, it caused her to cling to a pole downtown so the wind would stop pushing her up Main Street as she left work Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m only 100 pounds,” Acosta, 31, of Kenmore, said as she wrapped her arms around the pole. “I don’t want to get blown into a vehicle.”

The National Weather Service reported that the wind gusts reached as high as 76 mph in Batavia; 72 mph at Niagara Falls International Airport; 70 mph in the Town of Tonawanda; 69 mph in East Aurora; and 66 mph at 2:24 p.m. at the Buffalo airport in Cheektowaga.

That’s the strongest wind gust reported at the Buffalo airport since Jan. 17, 2012, when a gust of 67 mph was recorded. It was also the 36th day since Dec. 1 when winds in Buffalo gusted at or above 35 mph. The low-level jet of wind didn’t appear to cause any injuries, but it left extensive damage.

“It’s probably the strongest windstorm I can remember,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.

The worst gusts buffeted the region between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., said National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Welch.

Southtowns residents in Orchard Park and East Aurora were among the first to get pummeled by the wind gusts, which then made their way through places like Clarence, Amherst, the Town of Tonawanda and Niagara County.

A trail of debris was left behind, as trees and limbs and power lines were downed.

[PHOTO GALLERY: Wind downs trees, closes roads across Western New York]

The windstorm forced road closures from Fredonia to Lockport and frustrated homeowners who wanted the debris cleared from their streets.

“But we’re at the mercy of the utility companies being able to move power lines,” Poloncarz said Wednesday afternoon, “and they’re at the mercy of the wind. There’s not a situation that would require a state of emergency. Certainly, we have received a good hit, but nothing compared to what Genesee, Orleans and Monroe counties have received.”

Crews work on wind damage from downed trees in Lockport. (Mark Mulville, staff photographer)

The weather service reported the Rochester airport logged an 81 mph wind gust.

The gust there was only the second time that a gust above 80 mph was recorded there and its second-highest on record.

By late Wednesday, winds at the airport were clocked at 14 mph, gusting to 21 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Wednesday, by the hour

  • At about 1:15 p.m. – A CSX freight train derailed in Batavia. Genesee County sheriff’s deputies were looking into whether the wind was responsible for the derailment involving a total of 12 rail cars.
    There were no reports of any leaks or spills from the train, and no injuries to the crew. The train was headed from Chicago to Montreal.
  • Around 3 p.m. – The State Department of Transportation closed the Skyway in Buffalo in both directions due to the high winds.
  • Shortly before 4 p.m. – High winds forced seven flights from Southwest, Delta and American Airlines to be diverted from the Buffalo airport to Albany, Syracuse and Pittsburgh and smaller surrounding airports. “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 Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer. “When you get peak gusts up to 66 mph, that becomes problematic for an aircraft trying to land.”
  • Shortly after 5 p.m. – The high wind warning issued by the weather service caused Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to ban all empty tractor-trailers from the Thruway between Rochester and the Pennsylvania state line, as well as the Niagara section of the Thruway.
  • Shortly before 6 p.m. – The City of Niagara Falls issued an emergency weather statement 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.

But the winds didn’t keep Chris Mooney and his sister, Katie, indoors.

The two were battling the gusts downtown Wednesday as they walked with their three young cousins – ages 9, 7 and 3. The three young girls seemed to be enjoying the weather.

“They love it,” said Mooney, 28, of West Seneca. “Us, not so much.”

News Staff Reporter Lou Michel contributed to this story.

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