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Thaw spurs flash-flood watch Rising temperatures to bring dramatic change

The frozen white landscape that has encased Western New York for much of the winter season will change dramatically over the next 48 hours with temperatures expected to rise to about 50 degrees today and to near 60 Wednesday, according to National Weather Service forecasters.

That could spell big trouble for area creeks and streams, prompting the Weather Service on Monday to issue a flash-flood watch for Erie and Chautauqua counties.

"We're expecting temperatures to rise again significantly Tuesday and especially Wednesday, which will increase snowmelt runoff," said Joseph Pace, Weather Service meteorologist. "Plus, Wednesday and Wednesday night, there's an increasing threat of showers and the possibility of thunderstorms."

The flash-flood watch is issued through Thursday morning for three creeks in Buffalo's suburbs.

The Weather Service, based on field reports, said several ice jams had formed on Cazenovia, Buffalo and Cayuga creeks following the snowmelt and warm temperatures over the past few days.

Colder temperatures Monday stopped the runoff, at least temporarily, but that should change with the warmer weather and possible showers today and Wednesday.

"People near these usual problem areas should be alert and be ready to take action if flooding is observed or a warning issued," the National Weather Service advised in a statement issued Monday. "A flash-flood watch means the threat of flash flooding exists along rivers and creeks."

People living near these problem spots are asked to monitor weather conditions closely and be ready to move to higher ground if flooding occurs or a warning is issued.

The Weather Service provided details on the conditions at each of the three creeks:

*Cazenovia Creek -- Ice jams were in place near the Leydecker Bridge in West Seneca, near Southgate Plaza, and from near Cazenovia Park to the Stevenson Street Bridge.

*Buffalo Creek -- In Elma, an ice jam between half a mile and a mile long was in place near Winspear and Blossom roads. Another jam formed where Buffalo and Cayuga creeks meet at Harlem Road in West Seneca.

*Cayuga Creek -- An ice jam was in place near Schwartz Road in Elma and Lancaster.

Meanwhile, area police agencies and utility crews are also cautioning residents about the dangers of melting ice, rising water and flooding.

Sheriff Timothy Howard on Monday advised ice fishermen against endangering their own lives and the lives of those who could be forced to rescue them if a perilous situation arises like it did over the weekend in Ohio when more than 100 fishermen had to be rescued from a section of ice that broke away from the shoreline of Lake Erie.

"We operate under the premise that no ice is safe ice, and that will be even more evident with the unseasonably warm weather later this week," Howard said.

National Fuel officials also reminded residents they should not attempt to relight pilot lights on furnaces, hot water tanks or other appliances submerged by floodwaters.

"The floodwater may have caused damage that could affect the safe operation of the equipment," National Fuel said. "A qualified contractor should be called to inspect the appliances."

Customers should also never attempt to adjust gas equipment or their gas meters while there are floodwaters present and should not turn on any gas valve that has been turned off by utility or emergency personnel when flooding has occurred.

The potential for flooding is so real because of the dramatic warmup forecast combined with the prolonged cold weather and heavy snowfall the season has seen thus far.

The winter season passed the halfway point last week. Weather Service reports stated that January was the coldest month in the last five years and featured measurable snow on 24 of its 31 days.

Seasonal snowfall reports through January were received by the Weather Service in recent days. Nearly all reported "well above average" totals for the season to date.

Nine communities in Erie County -- Colden, Boston, Eden, Chaffee, Wales, East Aurora, Elma, Alden and Marilla -- all have recorded 100 inches or more of snow this season so far. The regionwide leader -- South Dayton in Cattaraugus County -- has recorded 249 inches.

Three other communities in Chautauqua County -- Mayville, Arkwright and Sinclairville -- have recorded at least 200 inches, as have Perrysburg and Ellicottville in Cattaraugus County.

For a complete list, see the Weather Service public information statement at: http://www.erh.noaa.gov/buf/products/020709pns.htm

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com and gwarner@buffnews.com

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