Times Past: Tornadoes, lightning and snow — western Massachusetts has seen it all

  • Deserted Greenfield streets following heavy snow storms were a problem then and still are today. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

For The Recorder
Published: 6/2/2017 2:37:42 PM

Wild weather has dominated much of the news in recent years. I remember some interesting Franklin County weather from past years, including a spectacular winter storm, a super-scary thunderstorm, a monster ice storm and some fairly recent destructive events.

But, some took place nearly 50 years ago, so not everyone is going to remember them.

Of these, the first one I remember was a winter storm involving two back-to-back storms The first brought 12 inches of snow, followed the next day by 14 inches — it was only supposed to be 7 inches the second day.

The wind and snow drifts made the storms even worse, and it seemed to overwhelm the Greenfield Department of Public Works. Schools were closed, of course, and snowplowers worked around the clock. But, our short dead-end street was still not plowed two days after the second storm was done.

We had called the DPW repeatedly, and kept getting excuses like, “The plow trucks can’t get through! It’s too deep for our trucks!” Then, the promises followed — “Yes, by 8 p.m.” and “By 6 a.m. tomorrow” and “By noon.”

The DPW chief was getting sick of our calls, and finally exclaimed with a note of frantic desperation, “I haven’t slept in over 36 hours!”

My husband had plowed our driveway and his parents’ driveway next door, using our half-ton pickup truck, so he finally decided to tackle the street, plowing out the entire tenth-of-a-mile a few feet at a time — so much for those 1½-ton trucks that couldn’t get through!

Our next wild weather came in the form of a 4 a.m. mid-April lightning strike. The year was maybe 1966 when we awoke to a prolonged (20 to 30 seconds) vigorous roll of thunder, and our house was shaking the entire time. We wondered if we’d had an earthquake, or if World War III had started.

I trembled uncontrollably — and sleeplessly — until we got up at 7 a.m. — back then it was not possible to run to the TV to find information at 4 a.m., because all television and radio stations went off the air at midnight and didn’t start up again until morning.

We soon learned that people all over town had the same experience, except that many of them had called the police department for information about the earthquake or war.

The single lightning strike had destroyed an empty house on Wisdom Way, not far from the fairgrounds, and according to Ducky Cromack, our longtime fire chief, the lightning had entered that house through the TV antenna, which was grounded to the water pipes.

Immediately, all the joints in all the pipes had been unsoldered, and all the electrical wiring had been reduced to small shards of copper.

Although there was no furniture in the house, the antenna wires were lying on the floor and the lightning came out of those wires and burned it. It was fortunate that the house was empty.

Later, around 1969, we had a microburst. With no warning, we were suddenly in a torrential downpour with 100-mile-an-hour winds. There may have been thunder and lightning, but I remember only the sound of the wind beating against the plastic sheeting that surrounded our porch. It was like being inside a huge drum.

We were fortunate, as just one of our blue spruce trees tipped slightly away from being vertical. Next door, our neighbors had seven trees uprooted. This storm affected many people from Greenfield to Shelburne Falls.

Then, in the early 21st century, wind events included the 2005 Wendell tornado, which destroyed many acres of the state forest and damaged several homes, and in May 2010, Greenfield had a storm with violent winds that toppled, broke or uprooted hundreds of trees all over town, causing power outages lasting several hours to several days, depending on which neighborhood you lived in.

Many families’ homes were severely damaged, while many more families were blessed with near-misses, sparing both their homes and cars, when trees managed to fall just between their houses and driveways.

On June 9, 2011, severe winds broke many trees off at 12 to 15 feet above ground, uprooting many other trees, downing power lines and damaging some buildings and vehicles.

This storm damage involved parts of Munson Street, Wisdom Way, Colorado Avenue, Meridian Street, Deerfield Street, Cheapside Street, Brier Way and East Greenfield. Because that microburst did all its damage in just a few moments over a relatively small area — and because the Springfield area was still reeling from destructive tornados a week earlier — the storm and its damage received little to no news coverage, but I include it in my account of wild weather because it affected my street and my neighbors.

We’ve seen many storms hit Greenfield — and Franklin County — over the years, but we are still much more fortunate than people in many other parts of the country, suffering from droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and mudslides. It’s good to live in western Massachusetts.

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