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Water, water everywhere -- and ice, too Flash-flood watch and strong-wind warning as cold front moves in, likely bringing snow

When residents who live near area creeks and streams wake up this morning, all of the watching, waiting and warnings of the past few days will reach critical mass.

What remains to be seen, however, is just how serious conditions continue to get today.

Two straight days of temperatures in the 50s melted much of the region's snowpack. The warm weather also swelled area waterways that -- jammed up by broken ice -- spilled out onto land in several areas.

And, fed by as much as half an inch or more of precipitation that began falling across the region at about 8 p.m. Wednesday, swollen creeks and streams were under constant observation. Several roads were closed in the region as of late Wednesday because of ice jams or flooding. The wild weather is far from over, however.

A strong cold front -- part of which was responsible for spawning deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma -- will push through early today, ushering in strong, gusty winds and a potential for up to a half-foot of snow by tonight.

The succession of unseasonably warm temperatures, flooding, thunderstorms, high winds and snow had National Weather Service meteorologists on high alert Wednesday night, issuing new advisories and warnings as conditions warranted.

As of 9 p.m., Buffalo was under a flash-flood watch, a flood warning, a high wind warning, severe thunderstorm watch and a winter weather advisory.

"After the low [pressure system] goes by and the strong cold front behind that, morning temperatures [today] will be in the high 30s and dropping into the lower 30s," said Joseph Pace, National Weather Service meteorologist. "The wind is going to be of a major concern in the predawn hours and through the day."

Sustained winds of up to 40 mph with gusts as high as 60 mph are possible through this afternoon. Besides the threats to trees, power lines and property, forecasters cautioned that shallow-rooted pine trees could be vulnerable in the newly thawed ground.

There was also some concern that the high winds could break up Lake Erie ice and push it toward the eastern end of the lake, up and over the ice boom into the Niagara River, which could pose problems for hydroelectric operations downriver.

Police and fire personnel and highway engineers already had their hands full late Wednesday. Several area police agencies reported road closings as the result of flooding or ice jams.

Roads were closed in the Sunset Bay area in northern Chautauqua County and emergency crews were evacuating area residents after an ice jam at the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek there collided with the ice on Lake Erie. Water, authorities reported, was topping roads in the area. A flood warning for the creek was posted through 7:15 a.m. today.

The weather service also issued flood warnings for Cayuga Creek near Lancaster and Cazenovia Creek near Ebenezer.

Cayuga Creek was expected to crest slightly above the 8-foot flood stage late Wednesday, causing minor flooding in low-lying parts of Lancaster and Alden. Cazenovia Creek was projected to crest just above its 10-foot flood stage, resulting in expected minor flooding in low areas east of Orchard Park Road and south of Ridge Road in West Seneca as well as in Cazenovia Park in South Buffalo.

An ice jam on Cazenovia Creek near Leydecker Road in West Seneca broke loose Wednesday afternoon, carrying it down to the Southgate Plaza area. When that ice jam then broke up, it sent a ferocious rush of water and ice downstream that, by about 5 p.m., collided with yet another ice jam, all slamming into the side of the Stevenson Street bridge, damming it up there for a short time before it broke loose again.

"In my 17 years of doing this, it was probably one of the hardest hits I've ever seen this bridge take," said Donald J. Poleto, senior engineer of the city's Department of Public Works. "When that one broke through, there was a tremendous amount of water and ice sent down the creek."

While that eased fears of flooding in South Buffalo, Poleto said the Stevenson Street bridge -- closed to travel late Wednesday afternoon -- would still need to undergo a thorough inspection by city engineers over the next few days.

Poleto said the bridge, which was engineered to withstand flow of strong water and ice, was expected to remain closed until city engineers could confirm it is safe for travel.

There was also at least one other road closing, on Route 5 near Bennett Road in Evans late Wednesday afternoon. A bridge over Big Sister Creek there was closed to traffic for about half an hour just before 5 p.m., Evans police said.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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