Public works, officials, utilities stand ready for today's storm

Friday February 8, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- State and local officials, public works directors, utility companies, the owners of stores that sell snow removal equipment.

They all spent Thursday bracing for the possibility of a massive winter storm that is expected to affect Berkshire County and the rest of the state beginning today.

The National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., issued a winter storm warning for Berkshire County that is expected to be in effect through Saturday.

The storm could dump up to two feet of snow in southeastern Berkshire County, with up to 18 inches elsewhere in the county.

Eastern Massachusetts is expected to receive even more snow. One news outlet on Thursday referred to the storm as "epic."

"There does seem to be quite a bit of hype," said Pittsfield’s Public Utilities Director Bruce Collingwood.

But Collingwood said all the hoopla hasn’t changed the manner in which the city prepares for snow.

"Our preparations are no different than they are for any other storm," he said.

Although the National Weather Service lists the chance of snowfall in the Berkshires today and tonight at 100 percent, Collingwood said on Thursday that the storm predictions from various news services were still "all over the map."

Judging on the amount of snow that falls in Pittsfield this morning, Collingwood said he expects the city will issue a snow emergency that could go into effect by noon today.

"That’s my goal," he said. "I want to get the weather report in the morning."

Municipal workers spent Thursday tending to equipment issues and checking the city’s sand and salt deliveries.

"We’re fully stocked for this storm," he said. "Our preparation started right after the last storm."

In North Adams, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said the city expects to issue a snow emergency that will begin at noon today and remain in effect through 8 p.m. Saturday. He expects the snow emergency to remain in effect through Saturday night because of "drifting and whatnot."

"We were talking to the DPW and they’re anticipating a lot of wind into Saturday," Alcombright said.

At the state level, MassHighway Department Highway Administrator Frank DePaola said all six of the state’s highway districts planned to go into snow operations mode early this morning, which means workers will begin rotating shifts to provide 24 hour snow removal coverage across the state. Berkshire County is located in District 1.

"Because we’ve had 48 hours’ notice we’ve made sure we have adequate salt supplies," DePaola said. "We’ve notified all vendors, our fuel tanks are full. ... We’ve done as much preparation as we can get. We will have backup generators at strategic locations. We’ll probably have 1,000 highway department personnel working on assigned shifts."

In Lee, assistant DPW superintendent Dennis Kelly said workers spent Thursday afternoon loading the town’s plow trucks with salt and sand.

"If the snow is heavy during the day and there are a lot of cars on the road, it’s hard to keep our equipment moving," Kelly said. "I hope people did their errands."

Stockbridge Highway Superintendent Len Tisdale said the effectiveness of snow removal depends, in part, on cooperating motorists.

"People parking on Main Street can be an issue," Tisdale said. "If people obey the signs, we’ll be OK."

In Adams, Town Administrator Jonathan Butler also expects the town to issue a snow emergency sometime today.

Representatives of the Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and National Grid said the high winds expected to be part of this storm have put both utilities on "full alert."

"All crews are standing by, ready to go, along with our outside contractors," said WMECo spokeswoman Priscilla Ress. "We’re taking nothing for granted with this storm."

Both utilities plan to keep in close contact with customers whose lives depends on continuous service.

"We are reaching out to our life support and critical care customers and have plans in place to provide regular updates for customers," said Kathy Lyford, National Grid’s vice president of New England Operations, in a statement.

The owners of Pittsfield Lawn & Tractor and Carr Hardware noticed more foot traffic in their stores on Thursday, but more customers didn’t necessarily mean additional sales.

"It’s not as dramatic as if this storm was in December," said Carr Hardware owner Bart Raser. "Typically in February when it’s late in the season, folks are less likely to buy the biggest ticket items. They’re still buying shovels and ice melt but not snow blowers."


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