Blizzard's western jog spares Berkshires the worst


Despite predictions of snowfall totals over 2 feet, many Berkshires residents greeted the morning on Wednesday with less snow to shovel than they anticipated.

About 19 inches of snow was reported in Savoy and Williamstown, while Pittsfield weighed in with about 13 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y.

"The storm tracked farther west than forecast," meteorologist Kevin Lipton said. This meant the heaviest snow fell across Eastern and Central New York.

More than 30 inches was reported in certain towns in New York as of Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning.

"It may not have been the worst-case scenario, but it certainly was a bad scenario nonetheless," Lipton said.

Snow showers could linger throughout Wednesday, but no further accumulation is expected.

Local police departments reported no major accidents.

"We haven't had any storm-related issues at all," said Brad Sacco, a dispatcher with the Williamstown Police Department. "People in our town know to stay indoors [during storms]."

Bradley International Airport reported 40 percent of departures and 17 percent of arrivals were canceled as of 6 a.m. on Wednesday, according to a news release sent Wednesday morning.

Many schools in Berkshire County were closed on Wednesday, while others reported two-hour delays.

While the storm didn't quite pack the punch forecasters had predicted, it was a bona fide blizzard, nonetheless.

Two specific factors — visibility of a quarter mile or less combined with wind speeds of at least 35 miles per hour — are required for for a blizzard label, Lipton said. Those conditions must last for at least three hours.

In Berkshire County, low visibility and high wind speeds persisted for about four or five hours yesterday, possibly longer in some areas, he said.

Wind speeds gusted to about 40 to 50 mph during the height of the storm in Berkshire County, he said.

With all schools and many businesses closed on Tuesday, most people just stayed home.

But for some workers, like health care providers at Berkshire Medical Center, that was not an option.

To help get those workers safely to the hospital, John's Tractor & Excavator Service in Lanesborough offered free rides until midnight Tuesday.

With several plow trucks on the road, owner John Goerlach said at least two BMC workers had taken him up on the offer by late afternoon.

"I saw a friend on Facebook who was a nurse who couldn't get to work, so the light bulb went on inside my head," Goerlach told The Eagle.

Other than snowplow operators, the few motorists who were on the roads Tuesday morning were heading into work late, making deliveries, doing last minute grocery shopping or couldn't go without visiting the local coffee shop — if it was open.

"I say ' Bring it on; I love the snow," said Karl Lange, of Stockbridge

Lange was relaxing at Stockbridge Coffee & Tea on Elm Street, chatting with Rebecca Dunbar, who was visiting from Glasgow, Scotland.

"We don't get snow like this in Scotland," she said. "I'm going back to the [Red Lion Inn] and get in the hot tub."

Northeast winds gusting close to 40 mph made travel dangerous, if not impossible, especially on country roads and side streets.

With the visibility down to a quarter mile or less on Route 7 between Stockbridge and Pittsfield, motorists couldn't see whether the traffic lights were red or green until they were about 50 feet away.

In Longmeadow, a DPW worker was killed when a northbound Amtrak train struck the truck he was driving, according to The Republican. The driver was working to clear the road of snow.

Road conditions remained treacherous into the early evening as within minutes of being plowed, the pavement was again covered with snow.

Snowplow drivers in the area of Dunkin' Donuts in Lee on Tuesday morning stopped briefly to warm up and refuel with a hot cup of coffee, according to manager Kimberly Smolnycki.

"We're getting a lot of plow people who we'll see multiple times," she said.

Others who ventured out by car and on foot felt compelled to frequent the nearest supermarket or corner food store that was open.

The Big Y on West Street in Pittsfield was doing a brisk business despite the blizzard conditions, according to store director Steve Gigliotti.

"Being we're inner city, we get a lot of foot traffic," he said.

Big Y prepped for the storm by having extra deliveries over the weekend of essentials such as milk, bread and baby items.

Good thing, since all cashier lanes were open late Monday afternoon as if it was the day for a major holiday.

"It definitely was like Christmas Eve," Gigliotti said.

The gusty winds made for treacherous travel on Tuesday, but they had minimal impact on electricity service by nightfall.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, National Grid's website reported two isolated outages, one each in North and South Berkshire. In Pittsfield, about 100 Eversource customers lost power when a snowplow rammed a utility pole on Churchill Street. Power was restored about 90 minutes later.

Regionally, air travel was at a standstill, with more than 7,000 flights canceled nationwide, reported. But airports in Albany, N.Y., Hartford, Conn., Logan International in Boston and the New York metro area were planning to restore operations Wednesday morning.

For those hoping to enjoy spring weather after the storm, patience may be in order.

The jet stream is dipping far South in the Eastern United States, bringing cold air down from Northern Canada and resulting in below-normal temperatures: highs in the 20s and 30s, versus the low 40s or so that would be more typical for this time of year, Lipton said.

Weather models show that the jet stream should trend South — bringing cold air with it — for the next two weeks or so.

This winter has been unusual from the start, he said, as only slightly lower-than-average snowfalls combined with unseasonably warm temperatures, particularly in February.

But March storms aren't so uncommon in the Northeast, as the combined influence of lingering cold air in the region and warmth starting in the South makes conditions favorable for large storms to develop, Lipton said.

"My guess is, this is kind of payback for those warm February days," he said. "For the most part, the general trend is below-normal temperatures."

Reach staff writers Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233. Correspondent Clarence Fanto contributed to this report.


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