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Killer winter storm drops snow, rain east of Buffalo

A half-year after the October Surprise, the western fringe of a late season Nor'easter blitzed Western New York Monday with a mix of wind, rain and snow.

In what may be winter's last gasp, the storm packed a punch in some areas, including in Warsaw and Ellicottville, where more than 10 inches of snow fell by late Monday afternoon.

Up to five or more inches also fell in the higher elevations across the Southern Tier, with a mixture of rain and snow reported across the rest of the region.

Downstate and across the Eastern Seaboard, however, it was much worse.

At least 11 people were reported dead from the storm. Heavy rain and wind gusts as high as 80 mph toppled trees, washed out roads and cut power to hundreds of thousands.

"This is a real potent system for this time of the year," said Tom Paone, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo. "It's just kind of spinning around as it's continuing to move off the East Coast. It's a very large system that's not going anywhere quickly."

The storm dropped more than eight inches of rain on Central Park in New York City, resulted in winter storm advisories and warnings across the state and wreaked havoc on airline service, including at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.

Flights to and from points east like Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. were delayed or canceled Monday.

C. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, said while flights in and out of Buffalo were operating relatively smoothly Monday, travelers making connections to Northeast cities could face problems.

The Nor'easter cut a swath of devastation from the beaches of South Carolina to the mountains of Maine.

The storm was especially harsh in the Westchester County suburbs north of New York City and in New Jersey, where the state was placed under a state of emergency and more than 1,400 residents were evacuated -- many by boat.

New Jersey authorities called it the worst storm to hit the state in 15 years. Five homes burned down in one town after fire crews could not reach the buildings because of floodwaters. In other areas, refrigerators and pickup trucks were seen floating down rivers of water.

"This one is really a horror show," Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer said after touring hard-hit areas north of New York City.

Elsewhere, Boston Marathon runners dealt with rain and winds over 50 mph, Vermont got about 17 inches of snow, and a landslide in New Hampshire closed a portion of that state's major east-west route as winds blew windows out of oceanfront stores.

A woman and a 4-year-old girl both died when they were swept into fast-moving floodwaters trying to cross a washed-out section of road in Maine. One person drowned in a car after it stalled in an underpass in New Jersey. Another person was killed by a tornado in South Carolina, and two died in car accidents -- one both in New York and Connecticut.

The same storm was blamed for five deaths earlier in Texas and Kansas.

Meanwhile, heavy wet snow was reported across central and eastern New York, while rain and winds battered areas downstate and on Long Island Sunday and Monday. The weather service reported significant coastal flooding and beach erosion in those areas as well.

Up to four inches of additional snow was expected in the higher elevations of Western New York by this morning with an inch of snow possible in the Buffalo metro and surrounding areas. A chance of rain or snow was also expected today and tonight, with high temperatures in the lower 40s and lows in the 30s. The forecast was similar for Wednesday and Thursday, with mostly rain expected.

By Friday, the system is expected to be clear of the region. Mostly sunny conditions are expected from Friday through Sunday, with temperatures in the upper 50s to low 60s.

News Staff Reporters Sharon Linstedt and Gene Warner and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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