Erie and Niagara county residents are being cautioned to hunker down and stay indoors Saturday into Sunday as the area braces for a significant ice storm and significant winds, followed by potential flooding from anticipated rain of 2 to 3 inches.
A travel advisory is in place for Erie County, beginning at 6 p.m. If conditions deteriorate quickly, it could potentially be upgraded to a travel ban, county officials said late Saturday afternoon.
Early Saturday evening, sleet and freezing rain started arrived in the Buffalo metro area, making for somewhat slippery walking conditions.
Area emergency crews remained on alert late Saturday afternoon for Ice Storm 2018, with Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz saying that although the forecast ice had not come yet, weather advisories were indicating it could well be worse than initially expected. “This is a significant storm we’ll be monitoring for at least the next 24 hours,” he said late Saturday afternoon.
“It doesn’t mean it’s not going to hit,” Poloncarz said in a press conference at the Rath Building.”It’s creeping in. The most recent update we had is a little more ominous than we had this morning, with predictions of ice actually higher.”
The events over the next three days will be significant – from wind damage, ice storm damage and flooding – a weather trifecta. County officials said the latest weather updates were much more ominous than when they were first issued.
Potentially a quarter to half an inch of ice was forecast south of Buffalo, while areas in northern Erie County, Niagara and Orleans counties could face one half to three-quarters of an inch through Monday morning, Poloncarz said.
“When you have wind you must be alert, because tree branches crack and fall and may bring power lines down with them,” said Steven J. Stepniak, Buffalo’s public works commissioner. “Walking could be treacherous with a layer of ice on the streets and sidewalks. If you don’t have to go out, please don’t.”
Additional crews will be out salting city streets during the late afternoon into the night, Stepniak said.
“We have a stockpile of salt and we are ready,” the streets commissioner said during a media briefing Saturday afternoon in City Hall. County vehicles are still equipped with their winter gear and additional emergency dispatch staff is on standby, as well as sheriff’s deputies, if more personnel needs to be called in this weekend.
With an ice storm threatening a half inch or more of freezing rain, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office and the Niagara County Office of Emergency Management Saturday issued a travel advisory for all of Niagara County, effective immediately until late Sunday afternoon.
In a statement, the sheriff’s office said the forecast of winds of 20 to 30 mph with gusts exceeding 40 mph will pose a particular threat to bring down trees because they “will come from the northeast as opposed to the normal southwest.”
The risk of ice on roadways will be a problem after sunset Saturday. The sheriff’s office also warned of a risk of flooding as the total precipitation could exceed 3 inches. Areas along the Lake Ontario shore could see waves of up to 12 to 15 feet, causing shore damage.
Niagara County officials are asking residents to use caution if they must travel over the next two days and cautioned people to prepare for power outages.
Genesee County officials also issued a travel advisory in place for the next 24 hours due to heavy winds, ice and rain.
The National Weather Service has issued an ice storm warning Erie, Niagara, Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Monroe and Livingston counties. The ice storm warning – meaning total accumulation of a half inch of ice – said, “Significant icing and gusty winds are expected,” Power outages and tree damage are likely due to the strong winds and ice.”
The warning will be in effect from 2 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday. Precipitation will likely begin between 5 and 7 p.m., according to a National Weather Service update.
County officials were particularly concerned because of the recent wind storm of a week ago and earlier snow storm in March, since some restored power lines are just temporary and there is building concern how those lines would withstand a heavy ice storm and winds.
Saturday evening NYSEG reported more than 2,000 customers already without power in West Seneca after an earlier outage had been repaired, and nearly 300 customers without power in Clarence.
Already, some power crews from as far away as New England have been contacted to come to the Buffalo region, bringing additional contract crews, said Daniel J. Neaverth Jr., commissioner of the county’s Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Services.
“Travel will be difficult at times, especially tonight and early Sunday morning when pavement temperatures are coldest,” the updated weather service warning read. Downed trees and roads icing up are expected.
Depending on what happens in the next 48 hours, significant power outages and downed power lines could follow the ice storm because of ensuing rainfall, county officials warned.
The weather affected some Saturday events. The Bisons game was postponed and racing as cancelled at Buffalo Raceway in Hamburg. Officials also urged residents to avoid being on the roads once the storm arrived.
After a conference call involving the National Weather Service and the Erie County Public Works Department, Poloncarz said “roads probably won’t ice over until evening” but trees and power lines are expected to ice up during the day. He also said the weather service has warned “winds will be strongest in our region, with 40 mph gusts,” making tree damage likely.
The city is bracing for one-quarter to one-half an inch of freezing precipitation, Stepniak said.
“It’s looking like less for the city, and more for Niagara County and the north towns,” Stepniak said. “Be diligent, pay attention to your surroundings. Be careful with generators because they emit carbon monoxide.”
Forecasters issued a flood watch starting late Sunday, with a cold front expected to bring heavy rain between midnight Sunday and 7 a.m. Monday. Up to three inches of rain may lead to creek and stream flooding.
“The sewer crews are out monitoring the conditions,” Stepniak said. “It is typically the amount we would get in a snow meltdown, and we can handle that.”
A high wind watch will begin late Sunday as winds shift from the southeast. Gusts may reach 60 mph along the Lake Erie shoreline and areas just inland, according to a Saturday afternoon update from the National Weather Service.
Stepniak was asked to compare this storm with the October Storm of 2006.
“In 2006 we had a full tree canopy, and 22 inches of wet snow fell,” Stepniak said. “This time it’s ice. Typically tree branches can handle a tenth of an inch of ice without a problem. Add the wind, and that’s when you have branches breaking off.”
Poloncarz recommended residents have their cell phones queued to weather alerts and their devices charged, along with backups for their phone chargers. He also warned people not to use generators inside homes and to keep them at least 15 feet away from the outside of one’s home.
Poloncarz urged residents to download the county’s ReadyErie emergency app to receive updates on weather warnings, road closures and more.
A winter weather advisory will be in effect from 5 p.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. in the Southern Tier where total ice accumulations of a tenth of an inch to a quarter inch are expected.
The updated Weather Service statement for Western New York:
Including the cities of Niagara Falls, Medina, Rochester, Buffalo, Batavia, Warsaw, Geneseo, Orchard Park, and Springville 941 AM EDT Sat Apr 14 2018 ...ICE STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 2 PM THIS AFTERNOON TO 2 PM EDT SUNDAY... * WHAT...Significant icing and gusty winds are expected. Total ice accumulations of around one half inch are expected. * WHERE...Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Erie, Genesee, Wyoming, and Livingston counties. * WHEN...From 2 PM this afternoon to 2 PM EDT Sunday. * ADDITIONAL DETAILS...Power outages and tree damage are likely due to the strong winds and ice. Travel will be difficult at times, especially tonight and early Sunday morning when pavement temperatures are coldest. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS... Travel may be nearly impossible due to ice covered surfaces and/or downed tree limbs and power lines.