Near-hurricane force winds left some thousands of homes and businesses powerless across the Berkshires on Monday, as emergency responders scrambled to keep up with calls of toppled trees and limbs, blocked roadways, people swept off their feet — and even a flying storage pod.
Wind gusts pounded the region, with the highest of 69 mph — nearly reaching the minimum hurricane threshold of 74 mph — reported around noon in Adams. Pittsfield, North Adams and Williamstown each recorded official wind gust readings of 66 mph between noon and 2 p.m.
Mother Nature's fury kept the Berkshires' two major electricity suppliers busy as repair crews worked nonstop into the night. National Grid's outages peaked at 2,200 around 6 p.m., double the daytime high of roughly 1,100, then dropped to almost 430 by 7 p.m. The hardest hit areas throughout the day were Great Barrington, Lenox, Williamstown, Stockbridge and New Ashford
Eversource worked feverishly to restore service, with what seemed like no end in sight. At one point Monday afternoon, repair crews were dealing with electricity knocked out to 5,500 homes and businesses, mainly in Pittsfield and Lanesborough. The utility workers had the number under 900 by 6 p.m., only to see it bump back up an hour later to about 1,200, according to the company's outage map.
"The problem is just how spread out the outages are; calls are popping up one after another at our call center," Eversource spokeswoman Priscilla Ress told The Eagle mid-afternoon.
The wind knocked out power at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School just after 11 a.m., but it wasn't much of a disruption thanks to the building's emergency generator, which kicked in and allowed the school day to continue normally, said schools Superintendent Kim Merrick, except for "limited menu options" during lunch periods.
In North Adams, an unused and out-of-service chimney was blown from a Jackson Street home around noon, according to North Adams Fire Chief Stephen Meranti.
"The chimney came right off the side of the house and into the driveway," Meranti said.
The wind gusts even knocked two people off their feet late in the day, sending them to at Berkshire Medical Center, according to hospital spokesman Michael Leary. He the extent of their injuries were unknown at the time.
The howling windstorm was energized by a pair of intense systems, one moving east over west-central Quebec and another over New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The rapid movement of both storms contributed to rapid changes in air pressure, according to forecasters at the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y.
The high winds were expected to continue through the evening, blowing in scattered snow showers and snow squalls that could reduce visibility on the roads to zero, according to meteorologist Joe Cebulko.
Throughout the day, motorists dodged man-made and natural debris scattered across the roadways.
Debra DiMassimo, a Williamstown resident, found herself seconds away from being crushed by a heavy duty self-storage pod that flew into the road near the intersection of First and Tyler streets in Pittsfield shortly before 1 p.m.
"It lifted straight up in the air and dropped into my lane, like Dorothy's house landing in Oz," she told The Eagle. "A difference of three seconds or it would have land on my car."
Williamstown police temporarily closed the Taconic Trail early Monday due to downed tree limbs, and a large limb fell on a home on Northwest Hill Road.
In Pittsfield, police and firefighters responded to downed pine trees along Pontoosuc Lake and Wendell Avenue, just missing buildings.
Local authorities and utility officials urged people to avoid trying to remove downed trees, especially if they are nearly or entangled with power lines.
"There's no way looking at the line to determine if it is live," Ress said. "When our crews arrive they have equipment to test it to see if it's hot."
At the county's airports, high winds made for a quiet day. Pittsfield Municipal Airport saw sustained winds of about 45 mph and gusts of about 55 to 70 mph, according to airport manager Kris Keane.
"There were two aircraft that were supposed to come in and two transients as well, but they were canceled due the winds," Keane said.
Aside from a tie-down that temporarily popped off of a parked airplane's tail, everything at Harriman-and-West Airport in North Adams was safe and secure, reported Willard Greenwald, the airport's facilities manager.
"There hasn't been one bit of traffic in and out. This is just exceedingly high winds," Greenwald said. "If you turn your airplane just to taxi it, it could flip over."