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Remembering Snowtober

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Greenfield Main Street night of the storm<br/>Franz

    Greenfield Main Street night of the storm
    Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Utility workers prepare to replace a partially collapsed A frame metal tower that usually carries 69,000 volts of electricity on high tension wires from Cabot Station across Mountain Rd in Greenfield.  The tower will be at least temporarily replaced by a wooden H frame tower according to Ken Walker of Northeast Utilities who was on scene Wednesday Morning. Franz

    Utility workers prepare to replace a partially collapsed A frame metal tower that usually carries 69,000 volts of electricity on high tension wires from Cabot Station across Mountain Rd in Greenfield. The tower will be at least temporarily replaced by a wooden H frame tower according to Ken Walker of Northeast Utilities who was on scene Wednesday Morning. Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Davis St in Greenfield was closed due to heavy snow and downed power lines<br/>11/10/30 MacDonald

    Davis St in Greenfield was closed due to heavy snow and downed power lines
    11/10/30 MacDonald Purchase photo reprints »

  • Harry Mathieu uses a chainsaw to cut up a tree that fell in his yeard from heavy snow in East Greenfieldl<br/>STORY<br/>11/10/30 MacDonald

    Harry Mathieu uses a chainsaw to cut up a tree that fell in his yeard from heavy snow in East Greenfieldl
    STORY
    11/10/30 MacDonald Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Greenfield Main Street night of the storm<br/>Franz
  • Utility workers prepare to replace a partially collapsed A frame metal tower that usually carries 69,000 volts of electricity on high tension wires from Cabot Station across Mountain Rd in Greenfield.  The tower will be at least temporarily replaced by a wooden H frame tower according to Ken Walker of Northeast Utilities who was on scene Wednesday Morning. Franz
  • Davis St in Greenfield was closed due to heavy snow and downed power lines<br/>11/10/30 MacDonald
  • Harry Mathieu uses a chainsaw to cut up a tree that fell in his yeard from heavy snow in East Greenfieldl<br/>STORY<br/>11/10/30 MacDonald

This week’s “Frankenstorm” is predicted to bring up to 50 mile-per-hour winds and torrrential rain to Franklin County.

At exactly the same time last year, Massachusetts was contending with another freak storm — the nor’easter snow storm that brought up to five inches of snow on Oct. 30 and postponed Halloween trick-or-treating.

The Snowtober topped off a year of weird weather. At first, New Englanders enjoyed a mild winter. By the time the summer came, it was time for residents to pay their dues. In June, tornados pummeled Springfield. Then on Aug. 28, Tropical Storm Irene drenched and drowned western Massachusetts.

The strangest weather came as a surprise on Sunday, Oct. 30. The October snowstorm toppled trees, branches and powerlines throughout the Pioneer Valley and left 3 million homes in Massachusetts without power. The Franklin County towns impacted by the blizzard were the ones in the valley — Greenfield, Deerfield, Sunderland, and Montague.

Yet, as the the snow fell, weighed down trees and brought down power lines, many towns were already prepared to handle the storm after contending with Tropical Storm Irene.

“After Irene, we were able to sit down and identify key issues. Irene gave us practice on how to handle a significant event when the October snowstorm hit,” Greenfield Fire Chief Michael Winn said.

Better communication between the fire, police, town officials, Department of Public Works and utility companies is the main result of the stormy year.

Greenfield Deputy Fire Chief Robert Strahan said the town purchased CodeRed — an emergency alert system — for $9,000 a year.

“We needed a better way to communicate with residents of Greenfield,” he said.

Greenfield also made changes to how it communicates with emergency services. Before the storm, fire, police and public works officials meet to go over plans during the storm. The town also declares a state of emergency in order to capitalize on disaster relief funds.

“The relationship we have is dynamic with the utility company and power providers. It puts us in a good position,” Winn said.

The Montague and Turners Falls fire departments had extra staff scheduled during and after the snowstorm.

“It was a freak storm,” said Turners Falls Chief Robert Escott. “We planned and trained for this. It wasn’t a surprise. The fire departments, police and highway departments worked together to get the roads cleared.”

Escott said communications between all agencies improved, including with Red Cross and Western Mass. Electric Co.

“It’s important to keep the lines of communication open so everyone knows what others needs are,” Escott said.

In Sunderland, Selectmen Thomas Fydenkevez and David Pierce said the town learned to be flexible after the snowstorm.

“We had never drilled for that type of storm that cut off power to the community. It taught us to be flexible,” Fydenkevez said. “We needed to take plans and modify them. It was about becoming self-sufficient.”

Some changes made include a compiled list of residents and a new sign board on Route 47 North to relay messages to residents.

As for the ones charged with putting the lights back on, WMECO for the last year has enhanced vegetation trimming and removal on its rights-of-way and added advanced automation to reinforce the electric grid; revised its information sharing procedures with cities and towns; and installed web-based tools for improved two-way communication with customers, according to spokesperson Priscilla Ress.

“WMECO’s electric grid sustained significant damage during last fall’s nor’easter, with more than 140,000 customers losing power as a direct result of the storm,” said Peter Clarke, president of WMECO in a press release. “Though no utility can guarantee a storm free of outages, our efforts over the past year have made our transmission system less susceptible to tree damage and will allow us to more closely coordinate our restoration progress with communities and better communicate with customers.”

WMECO has also reached out to local emergency responders to discuss what worked well and what can be improved. “During meetings with every community after the nor’easter, company representatives clearly understood the need for improved coordination and communication with first responders, as well as enhanced communication with customers. The company’s response has been swift and significant,” Ress said.

The company has also worked to this year to reinforce the durability of its electric system in storm conditions and has taken extra steps this year to trim and clear vegetation along rights-of-way.

The utility company is now putting those new advances to the test with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy.

The snowstorm spared much of the hilltowns after towns such as Buckland, Shelburne, Ashfield and Conway, bore the brunt of Tropical Storm Irene a few months earlier.

“It was a major snowstorm but we didn’t see the same kind of large scale power outage,” said Andrea Llamas, town administrator for Buckland.

Many of the leaves that weighed down powerlines during the nor’easter were already cleared from Irene in the hilltowns.

As the snowstorm brought down trees and powerlines, it also closed the doors of many local businesses.

In South Deerfield, Jerry’s Place had to close for two days.

“When we opened up Tuesday, we had lots of business from people in the surrounding areas without power,” Pat Dagrosa, co-owner of the breakfast and lunch restaurant. “If we had power, we would have done whatever we could do to help people.”

The Whately Inn on Chestnut Plain Road in Whately also closed for two days and had to throw out all of its food. This year, the restaurant has learned to store its food beforehand in a Northampton location in case the power goes out, Dan LaFlamme, a server, said.

At Muffin’s General Market in Whately, the shop was the county’s source of coffee. While the cash register did not work and the lights were out, the store had a small generator for its coffee, said employee Heather Truesdell. If a storm knocks out power again this year, Muffin’s plans to continue serving coffee.

Last year’s storm wasn’t a nightmare for everyone, however. Unlike many businesses that had to shutter their doors for two to three days — Snowzees Bar in Sunderland raked in the money Saturday night as the storm blew in. The bar was holding its Halloween party that Saturday night. As many local bars and pubs had to cancel Halloween festivities, Mark Snow, owner of the Sunderland bar, said Snowzee’s was the last to lose power. The street lights were off across the street on Amherst Road, but the cars kept pulling in and the phone was ringing off the hook.

“We were the last ones to lose power of all the bars so everyone showed up here,” Snow laughed. “At midnight the emergency lights came on.”

When Snowzees finally did lose power, its band continued playing — acoustic. And the bartenders calculated people’s tabs on paper without a working register.

“Everything worked out. The money was right,” Snow recalled.

Like Snowzee’s, other area businesses didn’t lose power and were able to supply food to hungry residents left without electricity. Taylor’s Tavern in Greenfield had triple the business last year. Denny’s Pantry on Bernardston Road had diners lined up out the door at 11 a.m. on Monday and other restaurants’ parking lots were full at lunchtime.

Local grocery stores, including the Big Y on the Mohawk Trail, did a record business on Saturday and Sunday as residents braced for the storm, snatching up firewood, batteries, water, propane exchangers and prepared foods.

As the East Coast faces down for Hurricane Sandy, much of the improvements made after the stormy 2011 will be put to the test.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:

kmckiernan@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 268

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