PLATTSBURGH — About 1,000 North Country residents were without power by the time a much-feared ice storm had passed through Sunday morning — far fewer than expected.
The storm was still disruptive — causing cancellation of most church services, postponement of events and a delay in opening at Champlain Centre mall.
Roads were rough to drive on, with a crust of ice covered by a layer of snow. But most people stayed inside, as advised by emergency responders.
Fire departments and public-works crews were busy with fallen tree limbs, especially in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, but police reported few accidents around the North Country.
The buildup of ice on utility lines, tree branches and roadways had concerned Clinton County Emergency Services Director Eric Day.
“Slick and icy roads are dangerous enough, but adding the threat of falling limbs and downed wires compounds the problem.”
But by 4 p.m. travel bans Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties were lifted.
Towns with the most power outages were Ellenburg, with 379 customers out, and Dannemora, 116, in Clinton County; and Bellmont, 472 customers without power, in Franklin County, according to the New York State Electric and Gas website.
It also reported a scattering of outages in Saranac, 36; Clinton, 17; Jay, 31; and Wilmington, 32.
National Grid’s website reported 48 customers without power in Essex County, including more than 40 in North Hudson and fewer than five each in Schroon and Saranac Lake as of Sunday morning.
There were also a handful of homes without electricity in the Franklin County towns of Santa Clara, Franklin, Waverly and Brighton.
There were no power outages in the City of Plattsburgh.
Municipal Lighting Department Manager William Treacy said the city saw mostly sleet instead of freezing rain.
“Freezing rain hits the power lines and freezes and sticks, but sleet just bounces off,” he said.
Four or five representatives from county departments involved in emergency response were staffing Emergency Operations Centers in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.
“The last 24 hours were the same as (Saturday) — isolated pockets of electricity out with power lines down and tree limbs down,” said Franklin County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost. “Over all, the roads are very mealy, and the plows are having trouble pushing it.
“We’re going back to freezing rain, and that does give us some concern,” Provost said shortly after a conference call with National Weather Service officials in Burlington. “But what worries us more is the wind is supposed to pick up.”
He said 10-to-15-mph winds with gusts up to 20 mph could cause ice-covered trees and even more power lines to fall.
Provost said it was about 10 degrees warmer in the Tri-Lakes area and in and around Plattsburgh on Sunday morning, a reversal of the usual conditions.
“But in St. Lawrence County and Franklin County, we will be socked in with what we’ve been getting, and it is going to continue through Christmas and into the weekend,” he said.
Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said the Emergency Operations Center at the County Public Safety Building in Lewis was open to monitor conditions and coordinate the storm response.
Numerous flights out of Plattsburgh International Airport to Fort Lauderdale, Boston and other areas were canceled Saturday and Sunday.
“Airport maintenance crews have been working non-stop for the last 36 hours to keep the airport open,” Airport Manager Chris Kreig said in an email Sunday morning, “but the weather has created a challenging set of conditions to keep up with.”
Travelers were told to contact the airlines regarding their flights, as airport officials can’t provide that information.
Kreig said Allegiant, PenAir and Spirit all canceled flights on Saturday. Allegiant and PenAir flights were also scrapped on Sunday. An early morning Spirit flight today was canceled.
He said he had two full crews working 12-hour shifts, trying to get the airport cleared for flights.
“It seems we take two steps forward, then one step back,” he told the Press-Republican. “As soon as they clear it, it clogs up again.”
Closing the airport until 6 p.m. Sunday would give the crews a better chance against the storm, he said. He was planning for normal airport operations today.
MALL OPENING DELAYED
It was the last weekend shopping day before Christmas — with many people needing to buy last-minute gifts and grocery supplies.
But with emergency officials urging people to stay home, officials at Champlain Centre mall in Plattsburgh and other shopping centers had to decide whether to open.
At first, mall management delayed opening for an hour, but later it posted on Twitter: “The mall will remain closed until the travel ban is lifted. Some anchor stores currently open.”
Shoppers were sitting outside closed stores, including JC Penney, in the early afternoon, waiting for them to open.
Smooth Moves, a downtown Plattsburgh food shop, was offering free coffee to plowing and utility crews on Sunday.
CLEARING THE ROADS
Around the area, highway crews were out all night and into Sunday.
City of Plattsburgh Public Works Superintendent Mike Brodi said it was a tough battle, as even the multi-ton snow plows had trouble maneuvering.
“We had to put chains on the plows because they were having trouble,” he said.
He was reluctant to scrape down the roads completely overnight, fearing that dangerous black ice would form. So they left some crust on until Sunday morning.
“But we got a lot more snow than was predicted, so it is taking awhile to get all the roads clear,” he said Sunday. “We have to play catch-up.”
As the storm lingered, Brodi said, crews would repeat the pattern of plowing and sanding to make sure the roads were passable.
“This is probably a three-day process.”
Public Works had all six plows out working until one broke down early Sunday.
“The main roads are clear, but it’s going to take us awhile to get all the side roads.”
The city’s parking-ban lights were not on Saturday night, and Brodi said they were still debating whether to turn them on Sunday night because there were so many cars still parked on roads.
“If we don’t turn the lights on, we have to plow around them,” he said. “Either way, you don’t win.”
Police Chief Desmond Racicot said officers had to remind numerous drivers Saturday night that they should not be out on the roads during a state of emergency.
“We just told them to go back home,” he said.
Racicot said there were no major accidents that he knew of.
“Public Works has done a fantastic job.”
LAKE PLACID SHOPS OPEN
In Lake Placid, reports of tree branches leaning on power lines and broken branches kept town crews busy through much of the morning.
“We’ve had mild icing, I would say,” Mayor Craig Randall said just past midday Sunday. “Comparatively speaking, we’ve come through it relatively unscathed.
Ice buildup in Lake Placid measured about a quarter- to a half-inch.
The storm also brought some unexpected noise in the dead of night.
“We heard some thunder about 4 a.m., it woke me up,” Randall said.
“Overall, our trees are coated. So far, we have had no significant accidents, according to Police Chief (William) Moore.”
Randall said Main Street was extremely busy on Saturday, before the worst of the storm.
“Our village streets are in good shape; our shops are open,” he said Sunday.
Most communities got about a quarter to a half inch of ice overnight Sunday, bringing flood concerns.
This was a special concern in Ausable Forks where an ice jam formed in the AuSable River near the Jersey Bridge in Jay by about 5 a.m.
Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas said the 1.5 mile long ice jam broke up Sunday afternoon.
“The ice jam did break loose in Upper Jay at 2:30 p.m. There was no flooding, no issues. We were well prepared. We worked through the night.”
Some people were evacuated from the Intervale Avenue and Jersey sections of AuSable Forks, which have flooded before, as a precaution.
“We opened a warming hut at the Jay Community Center,” Douglas said.
“Some people are there as a precaution, but they can go home now. They’re happy.”
River Road in North Elba was closed due to flooding.
On Bucks Corners Road in Saranac a family was forced from their home when ice ripped the power supply from the building. The North Country Chapter of the American Red Cross provided lodging and food.
— Staff Writers Lohr McKinstry, Kim Smith Dedam and Felicia Krieg contributed to this report.