DANNEMORA — Seven vehicles piled up in a blinding whiteout on Route 374 on Monday morning.
First there were four, then, as emergency responders called on the State Department of Transportation to close the road, three more.
“A very, very bad situation,” Lyon Mountain Volunteer Fire Department Chief Roger Gonyea said. “Zero visibility.”
One person with what appeared to be minor injuries was taken to CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh, Dannemora Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Nick Pain said, relieved no one was badly hurt.
The chain-reaction crash happened mid-morning along a stretch of Route 374 that runs by Chazy Lake in the Town of Dannemora, a spot prone to whiteout conditions as the wind tends to pick up snow from the frozen lake and blow it across the roadway.
The sun was shining as Pain and his crew headed for the multiple-vehicle crash, which happened near 2465 Route 374.
“We came ‘round that corner, right by the dam,” he said, “(and) you could barely see in front of you.
“The wind was whipping through there.”
Continual whiteouts Monday morning also had cars crawling along with their flashers blinking on Route 9B between Stetson Road and Route 9 in Champlain and then on Route 9 both north and south of the 9B intersection.
Along Lake Champlain, strong winds sent snow across roadways, slowing traffic as well.
Clinton County Dispatch was kept busy throughout the morning as numerous vehicle accidents were reported.
There were a few in Peru and at least one in West Chazy.
Traffic was diverted around a stretch of Route 11 in Champlain as emergency crews dealt with a crash there. The same happened on Cumberland Head Road in Plattsburgh after a car struck a tree.
Route 374 was closed between Plank Road and Chazy Lake Road as emergency crews dealt with the crisis, “to keep the area isolated until we could get the cars sorted out, get the patients (tended to),” Gonyea said.
He was grateful it wasn’t worse.
“Anytime you can go to those things and not have a serious injury, it’s a blessing,” he said.
It’s a dangerous situation, responding to an accident where visibility is nil, Pain said.
“We had to watch out for our safety, too,” he said.
Even with emergency lights flashing and big, brightly colored fire trucks, he said, oncoming traffic could see little.
The winter whiteout phenomenon hadn’t reared its head much this year, said Clinton County Emergency Services Director Eric Day, because, “knock on wood, there hasn’t been much snow.
“And what’s on the ground, at least around here, is hard as nails.”
Many of whiteouts around the county were fueled by snow squalls moved through the area by strong winds, he said.
‘DON’T STOP IN ROAD’
Anyone caught in a whiteout, Day said, should keep moving slowly and watch for a place to turn off the road and wait for better conditions.
Don’t stop your vehicle in the roadway, he said.
“You never know what’s coming behind you.”
“The best thing is to put your four-ways on, try to go as slow as you can,” Gonyea said. “Make yourself as visible as you can with your headlights and four-ways.”
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Temperatures dipped to around 18 as dusk fell Monday and were expected to drop to minus 2 or colder overnight.
Wind-chill temperatures overnight and into today were forecast by the National Weather Service to be as cold as minus 39 in Saranac Lake, minus 26 in Schroon Lake, minus 30 in Malone and minus 17 in Plattsburgh. Emergency Services Director Eric Day thought about the potential for frozen pipes and stressed safety in thawing them.
Two house fires in early January were sparked when homeowners used heaters with open flames to try to thaw pipes, he said.
"We've had a lot of calls for carbon-monoxide detectors going off," he added, thinking of another danger.
Make sure the batteries in those devices and smoke detectors are good, Day said.
"I heard a story from someone today, a person found a problem with his wood stove because his carbon-monoxide detector went off. "The pipe had warped from getting too warm, and they were getting carbon monoxide" in the house.