by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — TOWN OF WILSON - When the wicked brew of high wind, rain and rising waters described by forecasters as "Frankenstorm" barreled into Niagara County Monday evening, Jeffrey Marsh and his wife, Martha Frerichs-Marsh, had front-row seats.
The couple chose not to leave their home on Ontario Street, overlooking the shores of Lake Ontario.
Instead, they boarded up a side and bedroom window and hunkered down for what they were warned would be a potentially destructive night of high winds, rain and waves topping 10 feet.
After 32 years of living near the water, Frerichs-Marsh said she'd seen her share of storms and was confident her home would survive another one — even one billed as one of the biggest ever.
"At this point, it's not that bad," Frerichs-Marsh said, reporting from inside her home at around 6:30 p.m. Monday, about an hour and an half after meteorologists predicted the remnants of Hurricane Sandy would descend on Western New York. "If the wind picks up, I might drive up the road to my mom's house. But, right now, I'm not too worried about it."
Forecasts related to the so-called super storm had plenty of individuals and organizations in Niagara County and across Western New York preparing for the worst throughout the day Monday.
Niagara Falls Department of Public Works Director David Kinney assigned a full crew of workers in preparation for the storm. By just after 8 p.m., his team had received three calls involving a downed tree limb and downed trees, including one across the road on Centre Avenue and Aaron Griffin Way and a second in the 2500 block of Porter Road.
"We're starting to get a few more reports here now," said Kinney, who had earlier reported virtually no activity.
City officials said City Hall would be open today, barring a power outage.
Rainfall predictions were scaled back in the Niagara region but the threat of high winds remained, which was the biggest concern for city crews, according to Mayor Paul Dyster.
"The principal concern we have at this point is high winds leading to power outages," Dyster said.
Dyster said residents who lost power in their homes overnight could take shelter at the city's public safety complex, 1925 Main St.
All school districts in the Niagara region, including the Falls city schools, canceled after-school activities Monday afternoon.
District officials did not immediately cancel today's slate of classes, choosing instead to take a wait-and-see approach to the storm's impact. Superintendent Cynthia Bianco said parents and students would be notified of any school cancellation via the district's automated telephone system by 4 or 5 a.m. today.
By mid-evening, district officials in both Niagara-Wheatfield and Lewiston-Porter had not yet committed to canceling today's classes either.
"Right now, things seem pretty calm," Bianco said just after 6 p.m. Monday.
By early evening Monday, the Niagara Falls International Airport had not yet been affected by the storm, according to NFTA spokesman Doug Hartmayer.
A flight left Monday morning to Punta Gorda, Fla. A second flight was scheduled to depart at 5:20 p.m. to Orlando was running on time. There are no flights set for today and the next flights were scheduled for Wednesday to Myrtle Beach and Orlando.
"It's always the pilot's decision whether the plane lands or departs," Hartmayer said.
The eye of the storm moved rapidly west towards the South New Jersey shore and began to have a direct impact on Western New York region at about 5 p.m.
Meteorologists with the National Weather Service predicted once the eye made landfall, the storm would weaken quickly as it headed toward Pennsylvania. The storm was expected to take a sharp turn north Wednesday into Thursday, where it would likely be a "non-event" in the region, Meteorologist Dave Zaff said.
"Our concern is the ramp-up of the winds this evening as heavy rain moves through as the system moves ashore," he said, explaining winds were expected to gust in excess of 50 miles per hour Monday night and into early this morning.
Zaff said the worst of the storm locally would likely occur along the south Lake Ontario shoreline, with as high as 10 feet or more crashing ashore near Porter and Wilson. Waves offshore could reach 25 feet as the storm raged, he predicted.
Projections on Monday night reduced the threat of rain, though it was still expected to be hard at times. A flood watch was in effect but only as a precaution in case something unexpected occured with the storm.
"Right now, it looks like there'll be less rain than expected, which is good," Zaff said Monday evening. "And just in case something unpredicted happens, going to keep our flood watch up through the night.
"High winds are a concern, as well as those who have property or live along the southern Lake Ontario shoreline. Otherwise, expect the typical trees and power lines down across various parts of the county and Western New York. It's not insignificant, but it's not like we'll have to survive an actual hurricane."