With a massive storm system threatening to pummel the Berkshires with high winds and heavy rain today, state and local officials and utilities on Sunday took extraordinary steps to ensure they are prepared for the worst.
All public schools and state offices are closed today as the effects of Hurricane Sandy, still hundreds of miles offshore, begin lashing the region. And representatives of regional electric companies on Sunday said they had crews deploying from out of state to respond to power outages.
But the brunt of the storm, which was expected to come ashore somewhere on the New Jersey coastline sometime tonight, was expected to be muted compared to the devastation that was feared closer to the storm's center.
"By this afternoon sustained winds will increase to 30 to 40 mph, with wind gusts of 60 to 70 mph," said Joe Villani, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Albany. "This is a very powerful storm."
The winds are expected to persist through early Tuesday, he said.
Rainfall will generally be in the 2- to 3-inch range, according to Villani, compared to the 5-10 inches predicted along the parts of the Atlantic coastline.
Villani noted the storm system will quickly weaken by Tuesday over Pennsylvania, but it could take several days before it lifts north and out of the local weather picture.
With the threatening weather breathing down on the Berkshires, local school superintendents have dipped into their allotment of "snow days," usually set aside for school closings during nasty winter weather.
Their decision was made easier Sunday evening when Gov. Deval L. Patrick and state education officials requested statewide school closures for safety reasons.
"I was leaning toward canceling because my concern was if power lines are down, I don't want to send kids home in that situation," said Pittsfield's interim school superintendent, Gordon L. Noseworthy.
"Besides, I wouldn't want to defy the governor and education commissioner," he added.
Several superintendents said Patrick made the right call.
"One kid getting hurt is one too many," said Peter Dillon, superintendent of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.
Berkshire Community Col lege, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst were among the area colleges to cancel classes for today.
Patrick also ordered state offices to close and non-emergency state workers to stay home today because of the storm.
Berkshire homeowners spent the weekend getting ready to ride out the blockbuster storm by snapping up generators, flashlights, batteries and sump pumps in case the forecast results in widespread power outages and occasional heavy rains flood basements.
Nary a flashlight could be found in most stores, while hundreds of homeowners didn't hesitate to plunk down $1,000 or more for a back-up generator.
Carr Hardware co-owner Bart Raser said he expects to sell "a couple hundred" generators by the end of today, as residents face the possibility of high winds knocking out electricity service. And if heavy downpours lead to flooded basements, he expects homeowners to switch gears.
"[This weekend] was about keeping power, [today it will be about sump pumps and Shop Vacs," Raser noted.
Home and business owners using generators were reminded Sunday by electric companies to operate them outdoors and disconnect from the power grid by shutting off the main breaker located in the electric service panel. Failure to do this could jeopardize repair crews and personal safety, according to utility officials.
The Berkshires two electricity providers, Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and National Grid, say they are ready to deploy more line crews than after Hurricane Irene hit in late August 2011.
"We had crews from as far away as Indiana, Ohio and Michigan arriving Sunday evening and by 7 a.m. [today], they will get a briefing on their assignments," said WMECO spokeswoman, Priscilla Ress.
"We have better resources in place than last year," said Charlotte McCormack, spokes woman for National Grid. "But if we have high winds, we can't put our people at risk during the height of the storm."
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.
Call for help
To report a power outage or downed power lines, customers of Western Mass. Electric Co. call , toll free, 1-877-OK-WMECO
For National Grid customers, call 1-800-465-1212.
In the event of a power outage remember the following:
- Never touch downed power lines, and always assume that any fallen lines are live electric wires. Immediately report downed power lines to your utility and local emergency agencies.
- If you lose power, turn off any appliances that were on when the power went off, but leave one light on so you will know when power is restored.
- Power problems can sometimes interrupt public water supply systems or disable well pumps, so keep a supply of bottled drinking water handy, as well as some canned food.
- To ensure a supply of water for sanitary purposes such as cleaning and flushing toilets, fill the bathtub and other large containers with water.
- Turn your refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed.
- Turn off propane tanks. Avoid using the phone, except for serious emergencies.
Source: National Grid