Amid Niagara's deep freeze, longing for Florida

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There's nothing like staring at nearly 15 stories of ice to induce longing for warmer climes.

The Rev. David Crapnell, who grew up in Upper St. Clair but has served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Niagara Falls for the past five years, took a photo last week of the massive ice built up by weeks of frigid temperatures and dreamed of the Sunshine State.

"It's been just bitter cold this winter. We haven't had a break," said Rev. Crapnell, 50. "You have to really see it for yourself. Mother Nature's pretty impressive. ... The spray lands on a rock or something or on ice that's floating around and it just makes a bigger and bigger mountain."

Contrary to periodic bouts of viral photos that make rounds on the Internet, Niagara Falls never technically freezes solid. According to the state park website, 3,160 tons of water flows over the three sections -- the American, Bridal Veil and Horsehoe falls -- every second, falling at 32 feet per second. There's even a live webcam of the Canadian falls from the Hilton Fallsview Hotel that showed water blasting over the falls and spray rising up Tuesday night.

"There's a lot of ice that builds up around the falls, but the falls themselves do not freeze," said Jeff Wood, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo who noted that low temperatures have hung in the single digits for about a week. "It depends on the winter. Obviously this has been a colder-than-normal period for us, and we're probably seeing more ice than normal."

A bout of arctic weather in January even brought the return of the "ice bridge" stretching across the Niagara River below the falls, linking the United States and Canada. Until 1912, tourists could walk on the bridge to look at the falls from below, a practice that ended when the bridge broke apart and three tourists died.

Not only do ice formations frame the picturesque falls, but they cover the Great Lakes. The lakes are now more than 90.5 percent ice-covered. That's the most ice cover in 34 years. In 1979, there was 94.7 percent ice cover, the largest ever recorded by scientists.

Niagara Falls' Rev. Crapnell, who attended the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Point Breeze, says he can handle the sports fans in western New York.

"The Bills are harmless, the Sabres are harmless," he said.

The icy mountain just blocks from his church, however, is another story.

"When you stand next to the falls and look up at it, it's unbelievable," he said. "My thought is: I have to get out of here. I've got to go to Florida or something."


Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @rczullo. The Associated Press contributed.

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