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Short-lived snowstorm leaves 25,000 with no power

It was wet. It was heavy. Trees came down, power went out and schools were closed.

And by the middle of next week, all the snow that came down overnight Thursday and blanketed the Buffalo Niagara area with a foot and more of snow will be gone.

But while the winter storm lasted, it managed to wreak havoc on the region, bringing down dozens of trees and power lines, mostly in the Southtowns and Southern Tier, leaving 25,000 people without power.

The culprit – the wet, heavy snow. Unlike lake-effect which can be light and fluffy, the complex storm system that moved into the region Thursday night had blown east by late morning brought especially heavy snow.

"It's like pushing cement," said Patrick O'Brien who worked past midnight plowing wet, heavy snow from driveways and parking lots in East Aurora. "We got 18 inches of snow. You can't back-drag it. It's hard to push. I got stuck twice. My son got stuck twice. It's just the weight of the snow."

Southern Erie County and Cattaraugus County posted some of the highest snow totals from the storm that started Thursday evening, but the Village of Wyoming in Wyoming County seems to have taken the lead with 2 feet. Twenty inches had fallen in Eden by 10:46 a.m., and East Aurora had 18.6 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Forestville in Chautauqua County had 22 inches.

The measurement at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport was a foot, nearly doubling the record for the date set in 1914 of 6.5 inches. But at the Niagara Falls Airport about 15 miles north, only 5 inches of snow fell.

Cattaraugus County was hit especially hard by the snowstorm. Friday morning more than 13,000 National Grid and NYSEG customers in the Southern Tier county had no power. A travel advisory was in effect for all of Cattaraugus County as crews worked to clear fallen trees and restore power.

"Everyone is working as hard as they can to get power restored throughout the county," Cattaraugus County emergency officials posted on Facebook Friday morning at about 9:30 a.m. "We have requested additional power crews to assist our local crews. The problem is beyond the typical lines down, so it will take longer than usual to get everyone back up and running. We're trying as hard as we can to get everyone power as soon as we safely can do so. We'll keep you updated with any pertinent information."

Most county phone lines were not working Friday morning, officials said, but 911 was operating.

The city of Salamanca declared a state of emergency, banning unnecessary driving in the area and an emergency shelter was set up at Salamanca High School, officials said.

The widespread storm led many school districts throughout the region to declare a snow day Friday, as did the University at Buffalo and SUNY Buffalo State College.

Many flights in and out of Buffalo Niagara International Airport were canceled, in part because of the snow but also the nor'easter bearing down on southern New England.

Power failures were reported throughout Western New York and National Grid said on its website that power may not be restored until midnight Saturday.

The storm was over by midmorning, which allowed plows to clear roads and power company crews to restore electricity.

In Erie County, plows had made their through most major county roads twice as of about 10 a.m.,  said Public Works Commissioner Bill Geary.

The biggest challenges have come in the Southtowns – particularly Springville, Concord and Boston – where trees brought down power lines.

The county had about 30 to 40 crews out at a time Friday, working 12-hour shifts, Geary said.

This marked the last week of a 24-hour operation for public works, Geary noted, which worked out well for dealing with this snowstorm.

"March came in like a lion," Geary said. "Hopefully, it calms down now and gets back to those moderate temperatures."

Regardless of the storm, the 40th Shamrock Run is set to go on Saturday as scheduled, organizers said.

The snow stranded Tori Ferraina, executive director of the Old First Ward Community Center, which runs the race, in her driveway for a time Friday, but she sent word that the race is a go.

More than 4,600 have signed up for the 8K race, which starts at noon Saturday.

Despite being held in March, which can have extremely changeable weather, the race has been postponed just once, according to the community center.

Steven J. Stepniak, Buffalo's commissioner of Public Works, said the streets will be ready.

As for what comes next in a month that can look like winter one week and summer the next, the weather should be quite mild.

This weekend, the forecast calls for highs in the upper 30s with sunshine and lows in the mid 20s. The average high for March is 37.

"Nothing eventful," said National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Zaff about the weekend forecast. "How about that?"

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