NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. -- When a deep freeze settles on the slumbering winter landscape here, it blooms with a brilliant white frost created by the 3,000 tons of water flowing every second over Niagara Falls.
The great cataracts rarely freeze in full, so despite the national moniker "Frozen Falls," its unrelenting waters continue to move and mist the barren terrain while the moist air crystallizes on nearby rock faces to form a dreamy architecture of ice.
Visitors hardy enough to withstand the bone-chilling cold are treated to incredible views of this winter wonderland.
"It's outstanding. As cold as it gets, it's a year-round attraction," remarked Paul Tabaczynski, a Buffalo native who now lives in Dallas but remembered to dress in layers — flannel over a T-shirt and a lined sweatshirt that passes for his winter jacket in Texas.
Although everything around them freezes, the three waterfalls that make up the famous natural attraction between the U.S. and Canada continue to flow and churn up the frosty mist.
The westerly wind usually blows it toward the U.S. side, National Weather Service meteorologist Steven Welch said, where the moisture wraps every inch of the landscape in white.
It presents a complex opportunity for local tourism officials charged with attracting visitors to the area, who have long made a target of the winter offseason. John Percy, the director of tourism bureau Destination Niagara USA, said Mother Nature is a tough act to plan for.
"It happens so fast and you almost become reactive, rather than proactive," he said of the phenomenon. "It’s a great challenge and opportunity."
Western New York is known for its demanding winters, and this season is no exception with temperatures falling into single digits. But in the last few years mild temperatures have kept the park's winter world from forming, he said
"You don’t want to over promise and under deliver," he continued.
Keila Cruz, 12, of Deltona, Florida, was impressed – and cold from the short walk with her family from the parking lot to the warmth of the Niagara Falls State Park visitor center.
"We haven't even gone out yet (to see the falls)," said her father, Jonathan Cruz. "We're trying to get our feet warm because we're frozen."
Maj. Patrick Moriarty, a state parks police officer here for more than 30 years, said that while the "Frozen Falls" moniker spreads, it is important to note the cataracts are not fully frozen. His department remains concerned about the potential for thrill seekers to try and scale what they believe to be a frozen cliff face.
Moriarity also cautioned those visiting the park to be aware of three area closures: Terrapin Point, Luna Island and Three Sisters Island, which are typically fenced off every winter due to ice build up.
"With the mist coming down its impossible for maintenance to keep the (areas) ice free," he said. "We want the public to come down and enjoy the winter aspect of the falls, just obey the rules."
With a deep freeze stretching from south Texas to Canada and from Montana through New England, the surreal scenes at the falls have been featured on national television and the Internet.
Tim Partin of Williamsburg, Kentucky, was here on business when he decided to take in the beauty of the icy geological wonder.
"It really is pretty," Partin said.
Matt Winterhalter is the editor of the Niagara, N.Y., Gazette. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.