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Winds, heavy rain flood roadways, raise lake level Higher temperatures prevent replay of October 2006 storm

At least this time it wasn't snow.

Monday's blast of nasty early autumn weather -- its low, jet black clouds, blustery winds and heavy lake-effect precipitation -- eerily evoked memories of the now infamous "October Storm" of 2006.

Lucky for us, meteorologists say, the temperatures Monday were about 20 degrees warmer.

A potent cold front guided strong thunderstorms through the region. That, combined with strong winds aloft and instability created by the warm waters of Lake Erie, intensified the storms, according to Kirk Apffel, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

"The physical processes are relatively similar [to the October Storm], but the difference this time are the temperatures," Apffel said.

Although Monday's temperatures -- mainly in the 50s and expected to stay in the high 40s overnight -- were cooler than the otherwise warm and dry September the region had enjoyed, they still were well above freezing, keeping the precipitation in liquid form.

As of 9:30 p.m., Monday's rainfall officially totaled 2.1 inches at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga. That figure, however, was expected to increase by midnight, forecasters said.

Monday's peak wind gust of 61 mph was recorded at 6:19 p.m. at the airport during one of those heavy thunderstorms following the passage of the cold front.

A 59-mph gust was reported at 11:24 a.m. at the Buffalo Coast Guard station on the lakefront.

The strong winds pushed Lake Erie's waters eastward toward the Western New York shoreline, raising lake levels. Monday afternoon's lake surge resulted in a 5-foot rise in the lake level with waves crashing on shore, especially in the spill-prone area of Route 5 in Hamburg.

The lake level rose to within 9 inches of flood stage at about3:30 p.m. before beginning to recede, prompting weather service officials to cancel a lakeshore flood warning.

A heavy early evening thunderstorm, meanwhile, dumped enough rain to flood several low-lying roadways, including a section of the westbound Kensington Expressway in Cheektowaga, where rising waters trapped as many as six cars under the Cayuga Road-Genesee Street overpass as runoff poured down onto the expressway.

Volunteer firefighters from the U-Crest Fire Company rescued five people from their cars in waters that went up to the vehicles' dashboards, said Nick Mendez, a Cheektowaga police dispatcher.

Rural/Metro Medical Services also was at the scene, but no medical transports were required, said Jay Smith, company spokesman.

Just before 9 p.m., the expressway remained closed east of Union Road.

Also in Cheektowaga, the left lane of the eastbound mainline Thruway at Walden Avenue was closed because of flooding, while, in Buffalo, traffic was down to single lanes on the ramps from both east- and westbound Kensington to the Scajaquada Expressway, according to Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition, a local area traffic monitoring agency, officials.

Elsewhere in Buffalo, one or two other cars became trapped at about7 p.m. under a viaduct at Sycamore Street and Walden Avenue. A woman in one of the vehicles got out safely, authorities said.

The Niagara Thruway was down to one lane between Niagara Street and the Peace Bridge about 9 p.m. because of flooding, and flooded roadways were reported at about 8 p.m. on the Route 5 construction zone along Fuhrmann Boulevard

About 10:40 p.m., Lackawanna police reported that Route 5 was closed from Lake Street to Ridge Road because of flooding.

The weather service estimated that the evening lake-effect band dropped as much as 4 inches of rain over portions of northern Erie and northwestern Genesee counties.

At around lunch time, when the cold front moved through, the weather service had begun fielding reports of trees, wires and poles down across the region.

Trees still fully in leaf were felled on Long Beach Road in Evans and Locust Street in Angola, while both trees and wires were reported down in Niagara Falls, North Buffalo, Tonawanda, Newfane and the vicinity of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church near Chestnut and McCollum streets in Lockport, according to reports.

Other areas of Niagara County also were affected by the storm, and wind damage was reported in Orleans, Genesee and Monroe counties.

Newfane was struck hard by a storm at about 11:30 a.m. Niagara County sheriff's officials reported power lines and trees came down after the line of storms hit along Lockport-Olcott, Coomer and Chestnut roads.

Trees came down at a home at 5948 Chestnut St., near Coomer Road; at 3276 Lockport-Olcott Road and at St. Brendan on the Lake Catholic Church, 3455 Ewings Road.

"We heard the winds and came out and found the [large tree limb down] and power lines across the street," said the Rev. Robert A. Wozniak, St. Brendan pastor.

Wozniak said the sun was shining just before and just after the quick-moving storm struck. He still was wondering whether a tornado or just high winds had swept though the area, adding that open areas like the large church parking lot seemed especially hard hit. Two tombstones were damaged in a nearby cemetery, he said.

Sheriff's deputies closed Ewings Road for a short time. No significant damages or injuries were reported, deputies said.

North Tonawanda had outages on Erie Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard, but customers were quickly back in service, according to police reports.

"It was crazy. It felt like a tornado," said Robin Linhart, clerk to Newfane Supervisor Timothy Horanburg.

The storm moved quickly through the area, and deputies said they had major trees and power lines cleaned up within an hour.

As many as 10,000 people in Western New York lost electricity during parts of the day Monday, but quick work by utility crews restored power to most areas of the region by 9 p.m.

National Grid reported 1,511 customers remained without power in the region Monday night -- mostly in Erie County, including 563 customers in Amherst and 813 in Buffalo. Nearly 3,400 customers were dark regionwide during the afternoon Monday.

New York State Electric and Gas only had seven customers left to be restored. At its peak, about 1,400 customers in Lancaster, Clarence, Depew and West Seneca were temporarily darkened by the storm.

The weather service kept up several weather postings as of 9 p.m., including a flood warning for urban areas and small streams, plus a lakeshore flood statement from a lake surge produced by the storm. Also, a wind advisory remained in effect until midnight.

Showers were expected to continue today, mainly before 2 p.m., with a daytime high near 58 degrees. Breezy conditions were expected to subside with south winds up to 22 mph becoming southwest at about 8 to 11 mph.

New rainfall amounts between a quarter- and a half-inch were possible, forecasters said.

News Niagara Reporter Nancy A. Fischer contributed to this report.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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