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'An awesome gift': Buffalonians savor winter warmth while it lasts

When Punxsutawney Phil came out of his burrow on Saturday and predicted spring would come early, we didn't think he meant the next day.

But with high temperatures of 54 degrees on Sunday and a record-breaking 59 degrees on Monday, Buffalo is savoring a brief reprieve from the frigid misery of this year's winter season.

Five days after tying a record low of minus 3 degrees during the Blizzard of 2019, Buffalonians pulled out their T-shirts, shorts and spandex to enjoy Monday's record-breaking high temperature.

"What do they call it, a 180? It's just so different – it's mind-blowing," said Jessica Shields, a server at Gordon Biersch from Kenmore, who wore a Yankees baseball cap while jogging on Ring Road in Delaware Park.

Sunday and Monday's warmup brought fears of mass flooding as the region's snow pack melts faster than the Buffalo Sabres' playoff hopes.

But it has so far not been a major problem in West Seneca, officials said, and part of the credit is going to the design of a new bridge that carries Harlem Road over the Buffalo River. Still, a flood watch remains in effect until Wednesday.

Meanwhile, flooding caused the closure of two roads in Erie County shortly after 7 p.m. Monday, according to the Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition website. Flooding caused 1 1/2 miles of Route 5 between Gold Street and Backus Road in Evans  to be closed in both directions. Also, Eckhardt Road between North Boston Road and Boston State Road in the Town of Boston also was closed in both directions because of flooding.

Anyone who ventured out in last week's blizzard had to wonder when we would ever see temperatures on the good side of 32 degrees again.

January brought more than 60 inches of snow, most in the last two weeks. February seems intent on making us forget it's wintertime, at least for a few days.

Darien Lake doesn't have anything on this weather roller coaster, with the temperature rising 61 degrees from last Wednesday to Monday.

"I think this is just what Buffalo does every year," said Dixon Atkins, 20, a University at Buffalo student from Buffalo who biked in a bright orange shirt and spandex shorts. "We get freezing cold, followed by 60 degrees, followed by minus 10 all the way through to May."

Atkins was one of a number of people out at lunchtime Monday in Delaware Park taking advantage of the balmy conditions. People pushed strollers, walked dogs, jogged and biked in the bright sunshine.

Michael Evancho had to stay close to his puddle-loving son Colin, 20 months, as they took advantage of a springlike day at Delaware Park. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

"This is an awesome gift," said Michael O'Sullivan, 67, a Parkside resident who has run in the park for 40 years. He wore shorts and a T-shirt that read "Grandpa: The man, the myth, the legend."

Patrick Occhino was on his lunch break running a few laps around the park as he trains for the Boston Marathon. The South Buffalo resident cuts grass and plows snow for the Buffalo Board of Education.

"I've had a rough couple days," said Occhino, dabbing at the sweat on his forehead. "The sunshine just gives you a whole new attitude."

Justin Tompkins, who works in housekeeping at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, was carrying his fishing pole and tackle box over to Hoyt Lake. Tompkins said he hoped to catch some smallmouth bass before heading to work.

Ashlie Lasker of Hamburg was pushing her daughter, Liliana, who is 13 months old and wore a summer hat, with pink flamingoes, to keep the sun out of her eyes.

"I love it," said Lasker. "I was getting cabin fever."

More melting on a record-breaking Monday, flood watch in WNY until early Thursday

As much as 4 inches of water is trapped in the snow pack that remained on the ground across the hardest-hit parts of the Buffalo Niagara region from last week's lake-effect snowstorm and blizzard. Some of it was released Sunday when the 16-inch snow pack began to rapidly melt.

More melting came Monday, when the daily record high temperature of 59 degrees was recorded a little after 1 p.m. It eclipsed the mark of 57 degrees, set in 1991. The average high for the date is 32 degrees.

Monday's unseasonably warm weather is forecast to bring more threats of ice jam and surface flooding from excessive snow melt, the National Weather Service said.

A flood warning is posted for central Erie County, including Buffalo Creek along with Cazenovia and Cayuga creeks, the weather service said.

Overnight showers are forecast. Temperatures are expected to stay just above the melting point with breezy conditions and gusts over 30 mph, the weather service said.

Earlier Monday morning, an ice jam was in progress on Buffalo Creek near Gardenville. Some minor flooding was reported on Parkside Drive in West Seneca along Cayuga Creek, the weather service said.

A flood watch is in effect across Western New York through Wednesday night.

Forecasters estimated that the most significant period for ice jams would come through late Monday, but they could continue as late as Wednesday.

It's not just sandbags and pumps that are helping West Seneca battle ice jams and flooding. The community also is getting some help from the new Harlem Road bridge over the Buffalo River.

The original bridge, built in 1911, had four piers. It was replaced in 2017 with a new bridge with one pier, improving the the hydraulic opening under the bridge, said Susan Surdej, spokeswoman for the State Department of Transportation.

"In essence, we have reduced the probability of ice jams and associated flooding at this location," Surdej said.

Includes reporting by staff reporters Barbara O'Brien and T.J. Pignataro.

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