UNRELENTLESS ICE STORM
By Donald Vorrath
Some have blamed El Nino, while others feel current global warming a factor, while still some feel it might be ozone depletion, but whatever the aberrant cause we "north country" residents experienced during January, "The Great Ice Storm of '98." Could this be a precursor of a new weather pattern or just a once in a lifetime phenomenon? Living in the "north country" we are well experienced with erratic weather and some of the consequences that follow. They include utility outages, microblasts which fell millions of trees in just several minutes, unexpected early season wet snows, water spouts, cold temperatures where the mercury never rises above zero for a month, flooding, drought and fire, but no one remembers an ice storm the magnitude the northeast experienced last January. The physical explanation is quite simple; very warm moist air aloft and freezing surface temperature below. Normally in our clime it would be a reverse pattern and hence snow, but instead as the rain landed it froze to every surface. The geographic area of the storm was awesome, comprising an area from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic and as far north as Hudson's Bay. Ours was somewhat the southern boundary. New York State declared seven counties as emergency while the entire state of Maine and province of Quebec were disaster declared. While it covered such a huge area our concerns were very local and parochial. By the evening of January 6th our northern neighbors were already in the grip of ice as the line of freeze inexorably moved southward. The next morning our beautiful northern forests were glittering and shimmering with a thick coating of ice. When it was over it was estimated that up to an inch of ice encrusted our surroundings. It started slowly, almost imperceptibly as branches and whole trees bent under the additional weight of the unrelentless ice. Some species bent over with tops buried into the snow while others broke and snapped with the suddenness and sound of gunshots during the first day of hunting season. Besides the trees the ice toppled and snapped telephone and utility poles and naturally the wires strung between them. Also greatly affected were the transformers and main electric distribution lines that became inaccessible through The Woods.
For me, as with the town highway employees, it started with a 3:00 AM phone call from our newly elected highway superintendent (what a way to start a new job!) I'm grateful he called then because in several hours passage to the regular roadway would have been impossible down the dirt lane off of which I live. As with any unexpected and unusual emergency the initial plans and executions were haphazard. Also with the power out in Vermontville we were unable to use the fuel pumps, water and naturally lighting at the town garage. Plans developed, crews were dispatched and the clean-up began. Volunteers, some with chain saws, others who just wanted to help in some way came to the town garage and offered assistance. None was refused. One local contractor gave up several weeks of paid work downstate to help his town. Others who have worked in The Woods as loggers gave their expertise when our community needed it the most, while others who lacked these skills helped in other ways such as delivering and setting up generators, bringing hot meals to the work crews, checking on people and getting needed messages through. The enthusiasm was extreme; cooperation and camaraderie were contagious even after the second week when adrenaline levels were low. The main concern was to get through this thing, residents welfare and safety, as well as our own and to help the line crews get to do their jobs. We were extremely fortunate that with all that was going on, no one was killed or seriously injured. We owe that to discipline, training and cooperation.
While we cut paths for the emergency vehicles, residents greeted us with warm smiles and questions about neighbors and for friends and relatives. They asked us to check on someone further up the road to make sure they were OK. One of the hardships for most ice bound residents was lack of phone service. We realized how dependent we are on communication. One elderly lady, really bundled up greeted us by saying how nice the sound of a chain saw was. It was like music. Another resident needed to get down the road to secure insulin for a neighbor who was staying with him. Those incidents and a lot more really made our labors worthwhile. Others offered hot coffee and in some cases a stronger libation, while still others just wanted to talk and asked what was happening as they felt separated from the outside world.
We would cut our way one day only to cut the same road the next day as the trees slowly came down. Just like the minute hand of a clock, always moving but not noticeable, so were the birches, beeches and maples.
In the initial response some mistakes were made, but once a system developed, progress was quick. One
such system was working together with same crewmembers. Another time saving development was using the town pick-up and snow plow as a "dozer blade". Debris was cut to smaller lengths and the truck just pushed it off the sides of roadway. This was especially helpful when we received a snowfall several days after the ice. The truck sustained some scratches, dents and a broken headlamp, but otherwise a small price to pay for its value in the initial clean-up.
Exceptional praise and kudos must be given to the Bloomingdale Fire Department and its volunteers who cooked and served meals, serviced, delivered and hooked up generators, provided heat and shelter, phones and the necessary message back. Because of their location line and tree crews saved time eating and resting there instead of traveling to Saranac Lake, a saving which helped us all. The firehouse became the central hub for us especially while Franklin's services were nonexistent.
The out of area line and tree crews were truly an exceptional group of fellows. They were disciplined and well coordinated with NiMo. They came from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware, New Jersey, Long Island and other parts of New York State. One fellow from Ohio commented how pretty the area was, but said he couldn't take too much of this "cold". At the time it was only in mid twenties above. I told him about the real cold and he just shivered a bit and stated he hoped to be home by then. On a personal note it was extraordinary to meet some of the linemen that I worked with while an electrical contractor on Long Island. It was like old home week just with a layer of ice.
A lot of fresh snow some three days after the ice storm surely didn't help in the recovery, but again we all pulled together and beat that as well. Some complained of our efforts, you'll always have a few who can never be satisfied. But despite those and the few the Town of Franklin really pulled together. Thanks and gratitude should be extended to Supervisor Frank Karl and board members, Mildred Brown, Lorna Oliver and Ward Fredenburgh who lent assistance any way they could for the residents of our town.
Special thanks should also be extended to our sister townships that lent or traded services, fuel and equipment. Everyone cooperated.
It is with personal satisfaction and pleasant recall that I write this short memory. I considered myself fortunate to have been a part of a great endeavor, one that is still continuing. My gratitude is extended to all who lent assistance and encouragement to help make our jobs just a bit easier. Hopefully it was a once in a lifetime experience and as time heals the wounds of our beautiful landscape for us who participated; we will always remember where we were, what we did and how we survived the Great Ice Storm of '98.
Town of Franklin
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