UPDATE: Prepared Berkshires bracing for impact from Hurricane Sandy

Friday October 26, 2012

Local public works departments, area homeowners and regional utilities are gearing up for a possible colossal storm of high winds, heavy rain -- maybe even snow -- that could pound the Berkshires and much of the East Coast early next week.

As of early evening on Thursday, the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., predicted that the current Hurricane Sandy would hit New York and New England as an intense tropical or subtropical storm from Monday night into Wednesday, moving from east to west just south of Long Island and coastal Connecticut.

For Berkshire County and vicinity, heavy rainfall would begin Monday afternoon, continuing into Wednesday. Government forecasters report a potential threat of strong to damaging winds during that period, with minor flooding possible.

Various scenarios remain, depending on which computer models are being used. One highly regarded model offers a different path for Sandy -- slamming into Chesapeake Bay with "historical" intensity. That path would take the storm into Virginia, lessening the impact on the Berkshires but packing a major wallop for the mid-Atlantic states.

The bottom line, as it's shaping up, indicates a severe storm affecting the Berkshires early next week -- only the amount of rainfall and the intensity of the high winds remain open to question.The potential for heavy rain has city and town highway crews trying to minimize the threat of street flooding.

The bottom line, as it's shaping up, indicates a severe storm affecting the Berkshires early next week -- only the amount of rainfall and the intensity of the high winds remain open to question.The potential for heavy rain has city and town highway crews trying to minimize the threat of street flooding.

On Thursday, Pittsfield road crews were continuing an aggressive campaign to clean out catch basins in an effort to keep the city's drainage system working efficiently, according to Public Utilities Com missioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

"But with so many leaves on the road, we're still going to get localized flooding," he noted.

In Lee, Dennis Kelly, assistant public works superintendent, said his employees are working to clear as many catch basins as possible before the storm.

"[But] if there is a drain in front of a house, it would be a big help if residents could clear it as well," said Kelly.

Homeowners are also being urged to clear leaves from their gutters and around the home to help prevent residential flooding.

"If we get a prolonged period of rain, it could mean flood waters backing up into a home," said Jeff Smith, owner of Al Smith Gutters in Lenox.

In case the storm knocks out power, area hardware and home improvement stores are keeping stocked with flashlights, batteries and portable generators -- a popular item a year ago.

"We already sold a couple of generators [Thursday] and other people are coming into the store saying they are getting ready for the storm," said Joseph Scapin Jr., owner of Lee Hardware.

Two days before last Hallo ween, a freak late October snowstorm dumped anywhere between one and two feet of snow on Western Massa chusetts causing widespread outages -- primarily east of the Berkshires -- prompting a surge in generator sales.

"We sold close to 400 generators during the same period last year," said Bart Raser, co-owner of Carr Hardware in Pittsfield. "We have an extra shipment arriving Sunday, just in case."

Raser cautioned homeowners to ensure the generators they buy are properly installed.

Meanwhile, the area's two electric companies are ramping up their emergency operations in anticipation of the predicted gale-force winds disrupting service, according to utility officials.

"We're on high alert," said Priscilla Ress, spokeswoman for Western Massachusetts Electric Co. "We're already reaching out to our outside crews and contractors."

National Grid will decide today if they will mobilize additional repair crews before the storm hits, according to spokeswoman Charlotte McCormack.

"We've already put our outside contractors on alert so they will be ready when we pull the trigger -- if we need them," McCormack said.

WMECO and National Grid were heavily criticized for their handling of power outages following the 2001 pre-Halloween storm, as thousands of homes and businesses in Massa chusetts went more than a week without electricity.

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown doesn't want a repeat performance.

"I write to request specific information regarding your preparations, including comparison of the number of line crews and repair personnel you have at your disposal today, compared to this time last year," Brown stated in a letter to all utilities in the Bay State.

Nevertheless, utility officials are urging home and business owners to always be prepared for power outages.

"We remind customers there is no way to prevent widespread outages due a devastating storm," Ress said.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233