Safety first concern in storm

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Pedestrians make their way across Avenue A in Turners Falls as Nemo rolls into town turning everything white.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Pedestrians make their way across Avenue A in Turners Falls as Nemo rolls into town turning everything white.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Pedestrians make their way across Avenue A in Turners Falls as Nemo rolls into town turning everything white.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Pedestrians make their way across Avenue A in Turners Falls as Nemo rolls into town turning everything white.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Pedestrians make their way across Avenue A in Turners Falls as Nemo rolls into town turning everything white.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Pedestrians make their way across Avenue A in Turners Falls as Nemo rolls into town turning everything white.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Pedestrians make their way across Avenue A in Turners Falls as Nemo rolls into town turning everything white.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Pedestrians make their way across Avenue A in Turners Falls as Nemo rolls into town turning everything white.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Pedestrians make their way across Avenue A in Turners Falls as Nemo rolls into town turning everything white.

Though teachers, schoolchildren, non-essential government workers and some in the private sector had the day off Friday, as Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and closed the state’s roads, those first falling flakes of Storm Nemo were a call to action for others.

“We’ve just opened our storm rooms around the region,” Priscilla Ress, spokeswoman for Western Massachusetts Electric Co., said early Friday afternoon as forecasters warned of as much as 3 feet of snow in some parts of the state.

Line repair crews, tree workers and troubleshooters coordinated with town liaisons at the WMECO building in Greenfield. Friday, they waited in anticipation of what the storm would bring, and where it would send them.

Ress said the afternoon forecast still called for a dry, powdery snow, the type that wouldn’t cling to trees and topple them onto power lines.

“That doesn’t mean we’re letting our guard down; this is New England, the weather can be tricky,” she said.

Work WMECO has done in the last several months could curb potential damages.

“Up until this point, we’ve been doing some pretty aggressive tree trimming,” said Ress. “We feel that will play in our favor.”

Whatever the storm brings, Ress said WMECO is ready for it.

“This is what we do; we’re in the business of keeping the lights on,” she said.

Ress said WMECO crews will address them as long as it’s safe to do so. That discretion, she said, lies with each individual crew.

“During a storm, when there’s an emergency, our first order of business is to make sure it’s safe,” said Ress. “Then we do everything possible to repair damage and restore power.”

Roads closed

Conditions that could compromise crew safety are high winds, roads slick with heavy snow, white-out conditions, and trees across roadways.

Just after noon Friday, Gov. Patrick issued an executive order banning most traffic from roads from 4 p.m. until the ban is lifted. It was the first such statewide ban since the Blizzard of 1978, which paralyzed much of seacoast New England for days. Certain essential government and private sector workers like reporters are exempt from the ban.

The travel ban was not to punish drivers but “to emphasize how important it is that non-essential travel” be prohibited to give emergency workers and plowing crews access to the roads, the governor said.

Public safety departments across the county are also ramping up personnel to deal with any problems the storm may bring.

“We’re running twice as many daytime patrols today, with three extra troopers on the road,” said Trooper Benjamin Therrien, of the State Police’s Shelburne Barracks. “We should have enough personnel to handle the storm. We’re running extra evening patrols, too.”

The Athol and Belchertown state police barracks also ramped up manpower in anticipation of the storm.

The Orange Fire Department had called in as much as four times its normal staff for the storm. Chief Dennis Annear said additional workers were told to come in for noon Friday, and would stay on hand through the storm.

Friday afternoon, emergency operations centers in the county had not yet opened, but were ready to do so should the storm warrant it.

Across the state, in Lincoln, thousands of Guardsmen at Hanscom Air Force Base awaited their marching orders, ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice.

“Right now, we have 174 staff on duty, preparing vehicles that will be moving out over the course of the storm,” said Maj. Glen Kernusky, spokesman for the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

The timing of the storm made it easy for the Guard to quickly amass a force.

“We have a regular drill this weekend; several thousand soldiers will attend, and they’ll assist with the storm,” said Kernusky.

Those soldiers, their numbers between 5,000 and 6,000, will be sent out to help communities based on the needs that evolve as the storm progresses.

Throughout the day Friday, which may government workers and school children had off in advance of Storm Nemo, Greenfield supermarkets and gas stations continued to see brisk business in essentials like, bread, water, batteries and gasoline. Some gas stations in Greenfield reported at least temporarily running out of fuel as early as Thursday night.

Blizzards before

Though the weekend forecast was for severe conditions in much of New England, it’s not the first time Franklin County has dealt with a major snow storm.

Blizzard Josh dumped 18 inches of snow on Greenfield 20 years ago, on March 13, 1993.

Three years later, the blizzard of ’96 brought heavy snows totalling 13.5 inches in the county seat.

In 2001, Blizzard Emily blanketed the county, with 19 inches falling in Greenfield, and 24 inches reported a couple miles north, in Bernardston.

Nearly 2 feet of snow fell in a Feb. 19, 2003, blizzard. Then there was the ice storm of 2008, when freezing rain brought down trees and wires across the state, blocking roads and leaving some areas without power for as long as two weeks.

In 2011, 9 inches of snow fell on Oct. 30, clinging to the not-yet-bare trees, and bringing them down, along with power lines, as the region was still dealing with the effects of that Tropical Storm Irene that August. Power was out for days for many in the hilltowns.

Forecast

Greenfield meteorologist Tom Bevacqua expected the storm to end this morning, after covering Greenfield with 12 to 18 inches of snow. The storm could also bring gusts of 30 to 40 mph, said Bevacqua.

Though the storm was expected to reach blizzard conditions closer to the coast, sustained winds lower than 35 mph would keep it from being an actual blizzard in our area.

Blizzard or not, Bevacqua doesn’t think this will be the end to winter weather this season.

“On the medium-range charts, there are a couple potential storms after this week,” he said. Bevacqua said there could even be another significant snowstorm as early as Valentine’s Day Thursday, though it’s subject to change.

“Things will warm up, and we’ll get more and more daylight, but March can be vicious,” said Bevacqua. “I’m not saying it will be, but there have been many major snowstorms in the Northeast in March, and, I dare say, April, too.”

Ahead of the storm, pretty much every public event scheduled for Saturday had been canceled by the time the governor ordered roads closed to routine traffic. In Shelburne Falls, for the first time in 18 years, Pothole Pictures canceled Friday night’s showing of a film because of the weather. On Friday morning, when the tiniest, wettest snowflakes possible hung in the air like a mist, Pothole Pictures coordinator Fred DeVecca was rushing to put a handwritten note on the door of Memorial Hall.

With so little snow yet in sight, those who crowded into the Foxtown Diner for breakfast and a look at the Weather Channel on TV, were in an almost celebratory mood.

Elsewhere in the state

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority planned to shut down all service — including subways, commuter trains and buses — after 3:30 p.m. Commuters who use public transportation in the morning were being told to plan carefully so as not to get stranded after the T suspends operations. State transportation officials expect service to be up and running again by Monday morning.

Boston’s Logan International Airport said it would try to stay open during the storm but airlines had already canceled many flights through Saturday.

Predictions of 2 feet of snow or more could make the storm one of the biggest in recorded history, but an even greater concern than the snow could be the possibility of a damaging coastal storm surge.

The storm comes almost 35 years to the day that the famed Blizzard of ‘78 hit the region. That storm, which claimed dozens of lives, left about 27 inches of snow in Boston and packed hurricane-force winds and flooding that caused extensive damage along the coast.

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