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Clear blue skies plunge WNY into deepest freeze in four years

The Great Cold Snap of 2009 went out with a frigid flourish Thursday.

Just as a month or more of relentless bone-chilling temperatures were forecast to lift, Western New York was plunged unexpectedly into the deepest freeze it had seen in four years.

At sunrise, the thermometer stood at an official 6 degrees below zero at the National Weather Service office at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga. That was the lowest reading since Jan. 28, 2005. The record low for Feb. 5 is minus 12, set in 1918.

"When you get clear skies and quite a lot of snow cover, you get a lot of radiational cooling," meteorologist Tony Ansuini explained.

There were readings of 8 below at the Jamestown airport and 9 below in Franklinville, but Olean went down to just 2 below and it was zero in Wellsville.

It took a while to warm up, as well. Temperatures at the Buffalo airport didn't climb past zero until after 9 a.m., despite bright sunshine.

"When you start out at minus 6, it takes a while for the sun to have any influence at all," Ansuini noted.

That cooling phenomenon, under mockingly clear skies, posed a hardship for some morning commuters and some finger-numbing discomfort for others who had trouble getting their cars going in the cold.

"Compared to a normal winter day, our call volume is up about 25 percent, and it's directly related to the cold," said Diana Dibble, public affairs manager for AAA of Western and Central New York.

The most common complaint, of course, was cars that wouldn't start, but the AAA also fielded calls from some early risers who locked their keys in their vehicles while trying to warm up their cars.

The cold, crisp conditions were welcome news for one weekend event -- the Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament being held Saturday out on the ice at Erie Basin Marina.

"It's perfect," Erie County Parks Commissioner Jim Hornung said Thursday. "This is all about thin layers of ice. Our goal is to put two coats of thin water spray on the ice."

It will be almost 20 degrees warmer when people wake up today, Ansuini said, but strong winds will make it feel almost as cold as Thursday for a while. Today's high is forecast for the upper 20s with considerable sunshine this afternoon.

A flow of mild Pacific air is expected to lift temperatures into the 40s for Saturday. Then a weak cold front is forecast to bring things back to more seasonable levels on Sunday and Monday.

"Monday we'll have almost full sunshine," Ansuini said. "It'll be a good day to get your car washed."

News Staff Reporter Gene Warner contributed to this report.

e-mail: danderson@buffnews.com

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