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Storm rips Western New York; thousands left without power

A fierce late-afternoon thunderstorm raced across Western New York and southern Ontario Friday, felling tree limbs and knocking out power to thousands across the region.

A quick-moving cold front collided with sticky air in the high 80s that hung over the region for much of the afternoon, making conditions ripe for the violent weather, according to National Weather Service meteorologists. "We had a hot, humid, unstable air mass with a fast-moving cold front arriving at the perfect time of day for severe weather," said John Hitchcock, Weather Service meteorologist.

At 3:32 p.m., Buffalo Niagara International Airport registered the daytime high temperature of 88 degrees.

Residents in southern Erie and Chautauqua counties were the first to hear the distant rumbles of thunder shortly after 4:30 p.m. as the line of thunderstorms charged across Lake Erie at about 50 mph. Afternoon daylight quickly turned into darkness.

By 5:15 p.m., the storm was battering the Lake Erie shoreline from the Pennsylvania state line to Angola. Within 15 minutes, it closed in on the Buffalo metro area. The storm arrived about 5:45 p.m. Temperatures quickly dropped 10 degrees and winds gusted near 50 mph.

The peak wind gust at the airport was 47 mph, but gusts were believed to have been up to 65 mph in other areas, according to weather service estimates.

The severe weather trekked eastward.

A tornado warning was issued by the weather service about 7 p.m. for Livingston County, but no funnel cloud was confirmed as of late Friday.

"Doppler radar indicated a strong rotation in the storm on radar, but there were no reports of funnel clouds or tornadoes," Hitchcock said.

Still, the storm wreaked havoc. By 9 p.m., about 7,000 National Grid customers remained without power, including more than 5,000 in Erie County.

The hardest hit areas were in the Evans-Angola area, Cheektowaga and Buffalo.

Area police agencies reported some tree limbs down and darkened traffic lights.

Amherst police and fire officials directed traffic along the hard-hit commercial areas of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Main Street-Transit Road areas, authorities said.

A portion of the Thruway was closed to traffic between the Silver Creek and Dunkirk exits when debris left by the storm blocked the roadway just before 6 p.m. The lanes were reopened to traffic a short time later.

With gradual clearing skies expected overnight, residents are expected to wake up to a sunny day today with highs in the mid-70s. Sunny conditions will prevail through the weekend and into next week, forecasters say, with no rain expected until at least Wednesday.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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