PLATTSBURGH — Officials declared states of emergency in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties Saturday afternoon as freezing rain coated much of the region in ice.
“It is predicted that this storm will be a category 4 out of 5, which could lead to significant power outages lasting up to five days,” a news release from Essex and Clinton county officials said. “The ice will leave a significant amount of coating on tree limbs, with little melt, which would result in power outages.”
“You’re looking at a half an inch to an inch” of ice accumulation, National Weather Service Meteorologist Michael Muccilli said Saturday.
The hardest-hit areas would be the northern portions of Clinton and Franklin counties, with Essex getting the mildest of the storm, he said.
For many, this weather event has brought back memories of the 1998 Ice Storm, when as much as 4 inches of ice blanketed the region.
“I remember ‘98, and it wasn’t very good,” Dave Pickering said at Ace Hardware in Champlain as he paid for starting fluid for his generator.
His wife, Mickey, had stocked up on food and was home baking in the event that ice might disrupt power.
“Being cautious,” the Champlain man said of their preparations.
In the parking lot at the strip mall on Route 11, motorists hacked at ice-sheathed windshields with scrapers, shoppers negotiated the slushy pavement with care, heading for Ace, Price Chopper and other stores for storm supplies.
‘STAY OFF ROADS’
On Saturday evening, emergency-response authorities spoke via conference call with New York State Commissioner of Homeland Security, Jerry Hauer to discuss the possible use of state resources should they be needed.
“It is imperative that people stay off the roads during this emergency situation — the roads will continue to worsen, and our focus needs to be on restoring potential widespread outages throughout the area,” Essex County Director of Emergency Services Donald Jaquish said.
“You should be really aware of fallen trees, downed power lines ... and extremely hazardous road conditions.”
“We all need to be sure to check on our neighbors, especially the elderly or disabled and seek help or shelter as needed,” Assemblywoman Janet Duprey said in a media release. “Let’s all hope this storm passes quickly without widespread damage.”
‘FREEZE BACK UP’
While precipitation should taper off as the weekend comes to a close, Muccilli said, travel conditions will likely be especially hazardous tonight.
“It’ll lighten up during the day (today), and it should pretty much be over by (this) evening,” he said.
“You’ll see a little bit of (ice) melt probably (this) afternoon.”
However, “whatever doesn’t melt is going to freeze right back up,” as temperatures are expected to drop at the start of the week.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
“We are monitoring the situation, coordinating efforts with our partnering emergency personnel and will react and respond to the weather situation as it unravels,” Clinton County Director of Emergency Services Eric Day said in the release.
Initiating states of emergency made way for the emergency operation centers in each county to open, Jaquish said.
Essex County officials were in touch Saturday with their Department of Public Works and local fire departments and ambulance squads, the Governor’s Office and state legislators, Jay Town Supervisor Randy Douglas said in a news release.
“All emergency personnel are on standby and ready to handle any emergency situations that may arise.”
Interstate 87 had become “treacherous” by late Saturday afternoon, Jaquish said, with accidents reported throughout the day.
“I’ve been on the phone for hours,” he said, referring to conference calls with New York State Electric & Gas, National Grid and the National Weather Service.
“In order for our department to clear the roadway efficiently and make it as safe as possible for our residents, it is imperative that all vehicles be cleared off the roadway until the State of Emergency is lifted,” said Jay Department of Public Works Director Chris Garrow.
A fleet of white trucks was parked behind Texas Roadhouse on Route 3 in Plattsburgh on Saturday.
Frank Renner, general foreman for Danella Construction, said 38 trucks drove through the night from Plymouth Meeting, Mass., to reach Plattsburgh ahead of the worst of the storm.
The private contracting company, based out of Philadelphia, was hired by NYSEG to supplement its own crews, Renner said.
He said NYSEG called Friday morning, the first to ask for assistance, and he received several calls from utility companies in other states after that.
The 81 workers manning the trucks met with NYSEG officials early Saturday to discuss a plan in the event of power outages.
Trucks were dispatched to electrical circuits in strategic locations starting at about 3:30 p.m.
“Anywhere NYSEG wants us to go, we go.”
Renner said utility companies are proactive these days, calling for backup in advance so they’re well prepared for power outages.
Angi Hynder and Anthony Burl were busy working at the Stewart’s Shop on Cornelia Street in the City of Plattsburgh on Saturday.
Since Hynder’s shift started at 8 a.m., many had stopped in to buy firewood, windshield wiper fluid and other necessities.
She had already filled the end cap of bottled water twice by 4 p.m., around the time the weather worsened.
Many who stopped at Stewart’s bought gas, she said.
“These pumps have stayed filled up (with vehicles).”
Hynder used to live in Memphis, Tenn., and locals had been telling her about the 1998 Ice Storm, she said.
By about 4 p.m., Burl said, he had sold 220 pounds of salt.
Smokers were stocking up on cigarettes, too, he said, in case they wouldn’t be able to leave home to buy a pack for a couple of days.
ROCK SALT, SHOVELS
The Stewart’s Shop in Rouses Point reported a busy day at the pumps and inside, too, as locals prepared for the storm.
At Ace Hardware, customers bought up about two skids’ worth of rock salt between Friday and Saturday, Manager Irving Breyette said mid afternoon.
“Shovels, snow brushes, de-icer — we’ve been selling a ton of that stuff today,” he said Saturday.
The one generator in stock sold as well.
“If we had more, we’d probably sell more of them, too,” Breyette said.
— News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.
TO REPORT POWER OUTAGES
NYSEG urges customers who lose power to call (800) 572-1131; don't assume the company is aware of the outage. Downed wires should also be reported; don't go near them, NYSEG said in a news release. To report an outage with National Grid, go to www.nationalgridus.com.
The Town of Jay Community Center gymnasium will be open as a "warming center," authorities said. Residents, NYSEG employees and emergency personnel are welcome to use the facility for warmth and rest. Cots will be available.
RESCHEDULED AND CANCELED EVENTS
The Northern Adirondack Vocal Ensemble (NAVE) concert originally scheduled for 4 p.m. today at St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid has been rescheduled for Sunday, Dec. 29, at the same time and place.
The North Country Honor Flight has rescheduled its Christmas party for 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 23, at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 125 on Boynton Avenue in Plattsburgh.
The Ellenburg Depot Volunteer Fire Department Christmas Party, set for this afternoon, is canceled.