by Richard Sheir
MONTPELIER — The tale begins early October when the plow drivers go over their winter routes in a dry run and all winter equipment is checked. Montpelier Public Works is ready. Then, a few months later, the first big storm hits. It is bad enough to keep workers plowing, shoveling and checking the power lines around the clock, but not bad enough to close state offices or schools. And in the end, the bill is immense. Below is an account through the eyes of municipal officials, the power company and the director of the Kellogg Hubbard Library on how the storm unfolded.
Thursday, Dec. 4: The daily email alert from Roger Hill — the Worcester meteorologist who runs Weathering Heights Consulting and Radio Vermont — goes to Green Mountain Power and the city of Montpelier warning of a possible significant Nor’easter that might blow up the Atlantic Coast from the south picking up significant precipitation. Hill warns of the possibility of it mixing with a very warm lower atmosphere carrying significant amounts of heavy wet snow. It also warns of two possible waves forming an extraordinary event. Green Mountain Power begins emergency planning — calling for backups from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Canada to arrive before Tuesday, according to spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure. The forecast is accurate.
Tuesday, Dec. 9: Ten a.m. the new winter parking ban goes into effect. At noon, wet snow begins to fall. The city dispatches trucks. Montpelier City Schools Superintendent Brian Ricca and staff are in touch with Public Works Supervisor Tom McArdle, and the decision is made not to dismiss early but to cancel after school events for Dec. 9 and Dec. 10. Parents are notified by the school’s notification system. Later in the day, power outages begin in the region. School officials contact neighboring districts as well as Public Works. Other neighboring school districts close due to power outages. There were only 67 power outages in Montpelier proper that were brought back online the same day. Public Works officials predicted the streets would be clear in the morning, so the decision was made to hold school on Wednesday without afternoon events. At 5:30 p.m., with few people in the Kellogg Hubbard Library, staff are released to go home before the snow thickens and makes night roads hazardous, according to Tom McKone, library director. McKone decides to open the next morning. Green Mountain Power linesmen work around the state fixing downed lines and trimming trees throughout the night.
Tuesday, Dec. 9, evening: Twelve city road crew members are on the streets until 7 p.m. After 7 p.m., a crew of five were in trucks working downtown. After midnight, two trucks are out until 4 a.m. salting roads.
Wednesday, Dec. 10, 4 a.m.: Public Works employees plow throughout the morning, dealing with puddles in the streets that at certain points in the city were ponds, according to McArdle, who describes how the slush clumped up and plugged drains at several intersections. Some of the dirt roads in the city become slick and hard as icy snow builds up and driving becomes increasingly difficult. Kellogg Hubbard Library Director McKone says the library becomes a haven for residents from outlying communities who lose power. People use the WiFi and keep warm as the library stays open throughout the day. Later, in the afternoon, the second wave of snow arrived making already slushy streets slushier. Sidewalk plows go out again. Snow banks downtown on State and Main have the consistency of wet cement and become nearly impossible to shovel. Green Mountain Power dispatches 1,000 linesmen in the field working on the lines across the state, dealing with over 129,000 outages statewide, according to Schnure.
Thursday Dec. 10: GMP workers continued the work of bringing power back. McArdle addresses the unsafe mountains of snow that force people parking cars on State and Main to walk a half a city block in the street to reach a crosswalk. They carve pathways every 10 feet. City trucks continue to deal with the slush, preventing localized flooding.
When it was done: The Montpelier Public Works removed 2,300 cubic yards of snow from sidewalks and near sidewalks — four miles of snow. From Tuesday through Sunday, $48,000 was spent on snow removal. For Green Mountain Power, the duration of the storm has made repair nearly as costly as Irene and more costly than any other storm in history. In many cases, they returned to the same line seven or eight times to repair new damage that has occurred. Lineworkers report areas where there are trees down on every section of line.
During snow events, according to Michael Clasen, deputy secretary of the Agency of Administration, the state of Vermont holds a conference call between Administrative Services, Human Resources, Transportation and the Emergency Management & Homeland Security Division of Public Safety to determine a course of action. This email went out to workers both Tuesday and Wednesday: “After consultation with representatives of the National Weather Service, Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and VTrans, it has been determined that weather conditions do not warrant the early closing of state offices or a reduced workforce situation. However, it is anticipated that travel conditions will remain poor throughout the remainder of the day. Therefore, you are encouraged to exercise caution and allow additional time as you travel to or from work. All state offices are open for business during their regularly scheduled hours. Agencies and departments, subject to their operating needs, may wish to authorize employees to leave early and/or report late for work to better accommodate travel, using their own leave time. This message will be updated as weather conditions change.”