Berkshire County cleans up in wake of high winds
A day after winds upward of 60 mph tore across the region, power had largely been restored in the Berkshires by Tuesday afternoon — but public works crews still faced a long road ahead to clean up the damage.
Utility workers, who are dispatched in droves across the state, were fighting their way to the hilltowns, where they face unique challenges to restore power to the few residents who remain in the dark.
"The wind was awful, it was really blowing hard," said Richard Kleiner, emergency management director in Adams, which had reports of the strongest gusts in the county — 69 mph. "You could see shingles off of houses, gutters dangling. Where I live, there were rain gutters blown or twisted. ... I've lived here all my life; I've never seen winds that bad."
Damaged homes, power lines and downed trees were reported across the county Monday as sustained winds of over 30 mph sometimes gusted over 60 mph. North Adams and Pittsfield had reports at 66 mph, according to Christina Speciale, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y.
The storm, prompted by a very strong system near the Great Lakes that moved into southern Canada, took place throughout the Northeast on Sunday and Monday, according to the National Weather Service. Despite the system being so far away, the winds were felt in Canada, Ohio, New York City and into New England, she said.
Western New York, around the Rochester area, was among the hardest hit, with winds over 70 mph, Speciale said.
"In Western New England, we didn't see anything as severe as Western New York or Ohio," Speciale said. "We saw strong winds, but comparatively, we were spared."
Still, Berkshire County hardly was unscathed.
"We've lost probably four or five telephone poles and probably a dozen trees big trees," said Williamstown Highway Superintendent Chris Lemoine. "The winds were a bit bizarre because of the longevity, but as far as damages are concerned, it's nothing we haven't seen before."
Lemoine expects crews to be completing cleanup work in the town for the next two weeks, but all roads are open to traffic.
Even in Adams, few roads were impacted by the storm, Kleiner said.
"The only road we had blocked off was Airport Road," he said. "That's still blocked off."
Airport Road, he said, is an unpaved road with several homes.
Power outages, on the other hand, were a bigger issue, he said.
"I think it impacted 130-something people," Kleiner said.
To provide shelter to those who might not have had power overnight, Adams opened a warming shelter at the Council on Aging until 6 a.m. Tuesday.
"Nobody used it, but at least we were prepared," Kleiner said.
Pittsfield Police also had their hands busy, with calls to downed trees and power outages, according to Sgt. Ryan Williams.
Eversource had used detail officers while working to restore power or repair downed lines, he said.
The department didn't need to put more shift officers on patrol, he said.
"We lost power at the station, but the generators took over," he said.
By 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Pittsfield still had 69 residents without power, according to the Eversource outage map.
While most other Berkshire towns had fewer than 20 residents without power, the work was far from done for Eversource crews and contractors, according to spokeswoman Priscilla Ress.
"When I tell you we are working around the clock, it's not a cliche," she said Tuesday afternoon. "Up in the hilltowns, part of the problem is, we have to get to the damage, but it's scattered. Contractors are moving like an army toward the hilltowns."
Since Sunday night, more than 30,000 residents across the state have had power restored, and with winds having calmed down Tuesday, it has gotten a bit easier for crews to work.
During the height of the storm, it was dangerous for crewmen to get into bucket trucks and repair power lines.
"That's a judgment call that they make when they're there," Ress said of going up in bucket trucks during high wind. "When our crews are responding to repair damage, you can hear the other trees swinging and cracking. One crew was dealing with power equipment and another tree very close by came crashing down."
While there might be fewer residents who lost power in rural Berkshire County than nearby cities, those are often the hardest areas to restore, she said.
In Springfield and other cities, power to large numbers of residents can be restored by repairing less equipment and shorter stretches of power lines, but in rural areas, the opposite is true, Ress said.
"I think, originally, Berkshire County was really in the line of fire for the storm. We certainly expected Berkshire County was going to be hard hit," Ress said. "We expected this. We prepared for this.The system is built to withstand this kind of storm; it's the trees. The trees are what causes the damage."
These powerful winds aren't uncommon and can be attributed to "the battle of the seasons," Speciale said.
The transition from winter to spring — it usually occurs during the second half of February into March — can bring conflicting air masses, she said.
"This is the time of year we start to see that high-wind effect," she said.
But that doesn't necessarily mean spring flowers are around the corner, Speciale added.
Extended forecasts show that the first half of March will bring more cold temperatures.
The next snowfall will likely bring 3 to 4 inches overnight Wednesday into Thursday morning, she said.
"Remember last year?" Speciale said "We had five nor'easters in March."
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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