(Not so) Frozen Niagara Falls

NIAGARA FALLS, NY -- Niagara Falls saw more visitors on Wednesday than might be expected on a typical winter's day...many of them were locals.

They were drawn by the promise of a "rare" spectacle, which turned out to be not exactly what was billed, particularly by the national media.

After another bout of severe cold in the region, several reports were printed and aired nationally and internationally, that the American falls had "frozen over."

"I hopped into my car to come here to see if it was true," said Pattie Surwill of Buffalo.

Like many who live in Western New York, Surwill primarily comes to the falls when entertaining out of town relatives or friends, eager to see one of the world's natural wonders.

She said she came Wednesday after receiving a call from her sister in Montana, who saw a news report out west that proclaimed the Falls were indeed "frozen".

"There's certainly a lot of ice…but it's not frozen over," she observed, between taking photos to send to her sister.

"I came down here because I saw that it was frozen on Facebook," said Marty Szarban of Niagara Falls, who said he even saw pictures posted that made it appear the Falls had frozen over.

"I think (the pictures) were kind of an optical illusion," Szarban said.

Noting that the pictures he saw appeared to have been taken from the Canadian side, Szarban says he can understand how people unfamiliar with the Falls might think they had frozen.

There is an enormously large build up of ice and drifted snow in front of a large portion of the American Falls. Seen from across the gorge, it shields a significant portion of the cataract from view, hiding the still falling water from observers.

On the American side, where a visitor would be able to peer behind the ice and snow, and not only see but also hear the rushing water, it is quite easy to see the Falls aren't actually frozen.

"I really did think they were going to be frozen, because that is what I had heard," said Linda Gellman, a photographer from Lewiston.

Gellman also confessed to really hoping the Falls were frozen.

"I was hoping we would be able to experience no sound…it would have been very eerie to have experienced that . But I'm not disappointed, because this is still a winter wonderland to be sure," she said.

" I'm kind of disappointed, but it's still really pretty," concurred Cindy Nichols, a photographer from Farmersville, Cattaraugus County, who traveled with a fellow photographer from Dansville hoping to capture images of an entirely frozen Falls.

While there are images of the Falls entirely frozen, particularly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such a spectacle would truly be a rarity in today's day and age.

Those photos pre-date the construction of giant hydro electric plants on both sides of the border, for which great means are taken to keep the ice from clogging their intakeson the upper Niagara River above the Falls.

Not the least of these measures is the ice boom across the mouth of the river at Lake Erie, which keeps ice from entering the waterway.

Prior to its development, huge amounts of ice often did jam above the American Falls, reducing water flow to a trickle, and making it easier for the Falls themselves to virtually freeze.

Beyond being spurred to visit by (erroneous) news and internet reports of a completely frozen falls, however, several of those at the brink of the Falls Wednesday said they logically assumed that, due to the extremely cold winter we've experienced, if there was any year they would freeze, this would be the one.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Dave Harrington.

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