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As temperatures rise, flood-prone communities brace for the melt

One by one on Saturday, dump truck after dump truck filled with mounds of 4-day-old snow made their way to a deserted acreage tucked far behind a 7-Eleven at Walden Avenue and Pine Ridge Road in Cheektowaga.

The trucks arrived every 20 minutes or so from throughout the town, where crews were clearing the streets of snow and loading it onto the trucks to be hauled away in anticipation of the quick warm-up headed our way.

“What they’re trying to do is alleviate flooding by taking it away from the storm drains,” explained Jeff Prince, the heavy equipment operator on site Saturday. “I couldn’t even tell you how many loads of snow are here – lots.”

Communities across the Buffalo region were preparing for potential flooding, as temperatures rise in the wake of last week's blizzard that pummeled the area.

After dealing with temperatures in the single digits, Sunday is expected to have a high in the mid-40s, while the temperature Monday will reach into the low 50s, said Steve Welch, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Buffalo. In fact, he said, the low temperatures also will be above freezing, increasing the potential for snow melt and runoff.

“We’re going to have a solid 48 hours above freezing,” Welch said.

A flood watch will be in effect from late Sunday night through Wednesday around the rivers and creeks in Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming counties.

Communities across upstate were also put on alert Saturday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“The problem we’re anticipating is large chunks of ice that are thick – thicker than normal, larger than normal because of the extreme cold – and those pieces of ice, once they start to break up, can clog rivers and streams and create serious flooding,” Cuomo said.

Yande Chabala of Cheektowaga shovels out the apron of his driveway on Cayuga Road in Cheektowaga on Feb. 2. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The governor urged local governments to be ready and said officials can take whatever measures they need to break up the ice without prior approval from the state Department of Conservation. Those communities that may need heavy equipment to break up the ice were told to contact the state’s Emergency Management Operation.

“So, the warming should start today, tomorrow, Monday and Tuesday,” Cuomo said Saturday. “Don’t wait until the last minute to say, ‘Well, we have a problem and we need a long-arm excavator,’ because these pieces of equipment have to be loaded on the trailer. They have to be moved, in some cases hundreds of miles. And that doesn’t happen quickly.”

The Town of West Seneca was among the communities making preparations, including distributing sandbags to homes in the Lexington Green neighborhood, next to Buffalo Creek, which flooded the neighborhood five years ago.

Lexington Green residents, like Michael J. Machnica, were bracing for the warmup.

“This time especially, because it’s the same conditions as five years ago,” Machnica said Saturday. "If nothing happens by Wednesday I can breathe a sigh of relief  – I think."

In Cheektowaga, the town hired the contracting company Michael Serafini Inc. to help load the snow in the neighborhoods onto the dump trucks, then level out the huge mounds discarded at the site off Walden Avenue.

The operation has been on going since early Thursday morning. As of Saturday afternoon, Prince, a Serafini employee, had already logged 40 hours at the site, bulldozing the heaps of snow that rose 20 feet high.

But he could see the end in sight.

“It’s winding down,” Prince said Saturday. “Until the next storm.”

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