Hopefully, the rain won't be here until later and this will be a slow thaw, but flooding is our major, major concern here. —Michelle Pikula
BUFFALO, N.Y. — People in storm-socked areas around Buffalo began returning to work on Monday as fast-melting mounds of snow fed into creeks that were starting to swell.
It was not clear how widespread flooding would be almost a week after western New York was pummeled by epic snowfall. Thermometer readings were approaching 60 degrees by midmorning, and some residents of the Buffalo area were out and about in T-shirts riding bicycles while others focused on the tasks at hand.
David Fruehauf, 71, was out early clearing leaves from a storm drain in front of his house in suburban Orchard Park.
"These are the enemies of a sewer," Fruehauf said, staring down at leaves surrounding the drain. There's still a long ways to go. The stuff is shrinking, but it's got to have a place to go."
Families rushed to pack up their valuables and schools closed in advance — not of snow but possible flooding.
Temperatures were expected to hit nearly 60 degrees, causing Buffalo area residents to prepare for evacuations caused by runoff from melting snow, and overflowing creeks.
"Hopefully, the rain won't be here until later and this will be a slow thaw, but flooding is our major, major concern here," said Michelle Pikula, whose house is along the Buffalo Creek.
The National Weather Service said rain overnight into Monday amounted to about one-tenth of an inch across the areas that had received the heaviest snowfall. Forecasts call for rain showers on Monday and a chance of rain and snow showers by early Tuesday.
The NWS has issued a flood warning for Monday and cautioned that trees weakened by heavy snowfall and saturated soil could come crashing down. High wind gusts of up to 60 mph also could topple electrical wires and trigger power outages.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday warned residents in flood-prone areas around Buffalo to move valuables up from the basement, pack a bag and prepare for the possibility of evacuation.
"Err on the side of caution," Cuomo said at a news conference in Cheektowaga. "You prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and that's what we're doing."
Most snow-affected school districts remain closed Monday, and at least four called off classes for the entire Thanksgiving week.
In Hamburg, Pete Yeskoot bought a portable generator to make sure his sump pump will keep working once the roughly 80 inches of snow that fell on his property melts. Possessions are up on blocks in the basement and he has food for several days.
"Behind us is an 18-mile creek so everything in the village will come through us at some point, so we have to get ready for the possibility of flooding," he said. "And given all this snow, we have to expect that this is real."
National Guard members spent Sunday clearing storm drains and culverts to facilitate runoff, and shoveling snow off roofs.
Cuomo said evacuation plans and emergency shelters were being readied in case of flooding. As a backup to Red Cross shelters, Cuomo said the state would have shelters at community colleges and state university campuses.