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Winter made an unexpected and exceptionally early arrival in the region this morning.

Enough snow was falling in the Southtowns that the National Weather Service was considering issuing a lake-effect snow advisory.

It was possible that a few inches of snow could fall throughout today in the southern portion of Erie County, according to officials at the National Weather Service at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

"The weather is trying to make up its mind right now," said Tom Niziol, a Weather Service meteorologist. "This is an extremely difficult forecast. All the atmosphere has to do is cool by another couple of degrees and we're in a major snowstorm."

"There's just enough snow falling to make it icy and slippery," Orchard Park Detective Tom Norman said of a rash of fender-bender accidents. "We have crashes everywhere."

"It's unbelieveable. My boat is still in the water," Hamburg Police Dispatcher Jeff Sweetland said in reacting to the October snowfall.

Other Southtowns police agencies also reported fender-benders and cars sliding off roads because of the snow.

Thursday and throughout the night, trees and utility connections around Western New York bore the brunt of the strong winds that raked the area.

Winds gusted to more than 50 mph as temperatures plunged from a predawn high of 70 degrees to the upper 30s by sunset.

A high wind warning continued through midmorning today, and winds were expected to gradually subside.

At 8:19 p.m. Thursday, a tree was struck by lightning in the Village of Lancaster, causing limbs to slam against a house at 81 Hawley St. No serious injuries were reported to the occupants of the home of Karl Schaefer, police said.

Two people escaped serious injury when a large tree limb fell on their car at Main Street and Depew Avenue in Buffalo during a burst of strong winds at about 10:30 a.m.

A light pole fell on Niagara Square in front of City Hall, blocking traffic temporarily late in the afternoon. There were numerous scattered power and telephone outages across the region.

City Forester Andy Rabb and his crews were kept busy throughout the day. The normal forestry crew of five, plus three subcontractor crews that would normally be doing pruning or removal, was pressed into service.

Rabb said that six trees had crashed into houses.

"We pretty much have most of them cleaned up or are getting to them," he said Thursday. "It's not going to stop until tomorrow, so we're probably going to get more."

Nine other trees came down and blocked city streets, he said.

The one on Main Street struck a car driven by Joyce Solomon, 41, of Grant Street. Riding with Solomon was Hiram Cornwell, 76, of Minnesota Avenue. Both reported neck pain, according to police reports.

Solomon was released after treatment in Buffalo General Hospital, while Cornwell was released after treatment in Erie County Medical Center.

Renee Kramer said she had been patient for three years, waiting for the city to take down the dead tree in front of her house at 197 Keystone St. Thursday morning, the wind helped push it down.

"I was sitting down with my coffee and watching the news, and I turn around and see this tree coming toward my dining room and hit the house," she said. "It wrecked the upper porch, busted five windows and did damage to the roof. And I have no electricity."

Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. spokesman Steve Brady said that while there hadn't been any major power failures, there had been a "lot of small, scattered outages." The farther south of Buffalo, he said, the more likely people were to experience electrical problems.

On Grand Island, volunteer firefighters responded to 15 emergency calls Thursday, mostly involving downed wires on Ward Park, Huth Road, Stony Point Road, Baseline Road and East River Road. There was also an electrical transformer fire on Staley Road, according to Grand Island Fire Chief Skip Mrkall.

Motorists south of the city this morning encountered water across Route 5 in Woodlawn.

News Staff Reporters Janice Habuda and John F. Bonfatti contributed to this report.

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