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WNY FLASH-FROZEN AND WINDBLOWN

A low-pressure system moving through Southern Ontario led to a sudden drop in temperature and destructive high winds Saturday.

Falling debris and major power outages, especially in the eastern and southern parts of Western New York, followed on the heels on Friday's thaw-driven floods.

Temperatures dropped 40 degrees over the course of the day, from a high of 52 degrees shortly after midnight to about 10 degrees late last night.

Much of the damage to the area, however, occurred between midnight and 2 a.m., when the National Weather Service recorded wind gusts between 50 and 60 mph. The blustery weather brought down trees and signs and even activated a few house alarms.

Niagara Mohawk spokesman Steve Brady said the winds knocked out power to about 4,500 Western New York residents. In the Rochester area, wind gusts topped 70 mph, causing power outages to thousands more.

Dramatic weather shifts are par for the course in February, said Judy Levan, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

"When you start getting into late winter, early spring, you get stronger weather systems as warm air gets farther north," Levan said. "It's pretty typical for this time of year. I hate to say that."

The good news is that although today's temperatures are expected to remain cold, with highs around 20, the sun is expected to stay out, and winds will subside and remain calm.

In addition, while lake-effect snow reached parts of the Southern Tier on Saturday night, Levan said, snowfall since Jan. 1 remains about 6 inches below normal, with total accumulation for 2001 slightly below 2 feet.

The cold and quiet weather pattern is likely to offer respite to area residents still recovering from the rain and unseasonally warm temperatures Friday that led to flooding in West Seneca and South Buffalo. Above-freezing temperatures in recent days also led to a thin-ice warning for Chautauqua Lake, where four people on snowmobiles were rescued Saturday afternoon.

Chautauqua County sheriff's deputies said Kenneth J. Benner Sr., 71, of Buffalo; his son, Kenneth J. Benner Jr., 44; and two grandsons, Kenneth J. Benner III, 13, and Joshua T. Benner, 12, all of Middleport, left Bemus Point on snowmobiles about 3:30 p.m. to go ice fishing when two members of the group encountered thin ice about a quarter-mile out onto the lake and fell into the water.

Kenneth Jr. fell through first and was followed by Kenneth III. Kenneth Sr. and Joshua were able to stop before they went through. The victims were in the water and on the ice for about 30 minutes when Kenneth III got out of the water and used to summon help.

Police said all were treated at the scene for hypothermia.

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