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No delusions about the deluges Ice jams raise the risk of creek flooding as residents react to yet another alert

No one knows the risks, the danger, better than Glorianna Szeglowski.

How many people, after all, can simply look out their window and see firsthand what everyone else is worried sick about -- the rising waters of Cazenovia Creek?

And yet, after 54 years of living with it, she's not the least bit worried, not the least bit concerned.

"I'm 84 years old, and I take it as it comes," she said Tuesday from her home on Willowdale Drive in West Seneca. "You come to realize nature is stronger than any of us."

That's one view.

The other comes courtesy of the National Weather Service, which issued an ice jam flood watch Tuesday for Cazenovia, Cayuga and Buffalo creeks. The watch will continue through this morning and later today, when the temperature is expected to rise into the 60s with some rain.

"We're cautious, but we watch and listen," said Christina Wleklinski Bove, a West Seneca Town Board member who also lives on Willowdale. "Our eyes know the peace and quiet can end suddenly."

Like six years ago, when flooding swamped the Willowdale neighborhood near Southgate Plaza, and residents were evacuated.

Since then, a $4 million flood-prevention project by the Army Corps of Engineers has been completed. The hope is that it helps stop the ice jams and flooding that seasonly have plagued residents in West Seneca and South Buffalo.

"It's upsetting," said Lillian Denton, a relative newcomer to Willowdale Drive. "I don't like water even when it's running, and this is the first time I've had to deal with this."

Unlike most of her neighbors, this is Denton's first experience with severe ice jams and the threat of serious flooding. She also knows there's little she can do about it.

"What God does, we can't undo," she said.

Whether it's West Seneca or flood-prone neighborhoods in South Buffalo and Elma, the favorite pastime Tuesday was watching and waiting.

In West Seneca, hundreds of sandbags have been filled and made available to residents in three trouble spots. Portable pumps are available. And possible evacuation plans are in place.

"We're pretty well-prepared for whatever we have to do," Michael Kerl, the town's disaster coordinator, said Tuesday afternoon. "We're just waiting for Mother Nature to do her thing."

Significant ice jams were in place, potentially ready to break apart, in three West Seneca locations, according to the National Weather Service: near the Leydecker Bridge; near Southgate Plaza, along West Willowdale and Parkside drives; and near Harlem Road and Clinton Street.

Noticeably absent from the list of potential trouble spots are flood-prone areas such Tonawanda Creek in Clarence and Ellicott Creek in Amherst.

"At this time, they're all about the same as they were Sunday," Kerl said of the ice jams in West Seneca on Tuesday afternoon. "They're just sitting there now, but I can see the start of the runoff now."

Kerl mentioned the three elements that can work together to create widespread flooding: a substantial ice jam in place, a rapid thaw and a large amount of rain.

"If you take one of those three out, it could lessen the severity," he said.

Authorities who have kept a wary eye on the ice jams all week were hoping that one of those three strands, the heavy rainfall, could be avoided. The latest weather forecasts suggested that the heavy rainfall might skirt Western New York and fall farther to the east.

"Showers are OK, because they'll help flush the creeks out, and you'll start losing some of the ice," Kerl said. "It's the largest amounts of rain that could be catastrophic. Then the creeks can't handle the volume."

In Elma, town officials are closely monitoring a huge ice jam located on Buffalo Creek near Winspear Road, estimated by the National Weather Service at being between a half-mile and a mile long.

That ice jam already caused some flooding over the weekend. Emergency crews spent about seven hours Sunday in the area, where they evacuated a woman from her home along Winspear Road.

The colder temperatures kept the ice jam from melting, and creek waters managed to keep flowing under the ice as of midday Tuesday.

But with warmer temperatures triggering an obvious ice melt, officials are preparing for more serious problems today.

"The ice jam has packed in even tighter near Winspear Road," Town Supervisor Michael P. Nolan said Tuesday. "We have to keep a close eye on the three or four homes there. It's going to be 60 degrees [today], and we're going to have a very rapid melt. Hopefully, we won't have any rain."

Over the weekend, emergency crews also filled 200 sandbags in case they're needed to protect homes threatened by floodwaters.

National Weather Service officials have been watching the conditions all week, and they kept their flash-flood watch in effect through Thursday morning.

Residents in flood-prone areas should take little solace from the fact that a watch, not a warning, remained in effect Tuesday.

"The watch means that conditions are ripe for flooding to occur," National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Hibbert said. "I would hope the folks who live in those areas are already preparing. Once the warning is out there, it's essentially too late."

The warnings help, but for folks in the Willowdale Drive neighborhood of West Seneca, what really matters is how much water and ice reach their homes.

For veteran creek-watchers such as Glorianna Szeglowski, the days of room-size ice chunks finding their way into her backyard are over.

"Nowadays, it's not bad at all," she said. "Besides, throughout the years, we've learned to live with it."

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

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