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February 16, 2007

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 Rutland County

Region digs out from Vermont's 2nd-worst storm

February 16, 2007

Cindy Sherman gets her mail Thursday morning in Pittsford after a snowplow apparently knocked down some Route 7 mailboxes.

The Valentine's Day blizzard is one for the history books.

The storm set a Vermont record for the greatest amount of snowfall in a 24-hour period and earned a spot as the state's second-biggest snowstorm ever.

The 25.3 inches of snowfall Wednesday measured in Burlington topped the previous 24-hour period record of 23.1 inches on Jan. 14, 1934, according to the National Weather Service at the Burlington International Airport. Official measurements for state weather records date back to 1883 and are collected at the airport.

The Valentine's Day storm that spread into Thursday morning now ranks as the state's second all-time biggest snowstorm, behind the 29.8 inches of snowfall recorded in a three-day storm, Dec. 25-28, 1969.

While official measurements are taken in Burlington, other locations around Vermont reported varying snowfall totals ranging from more than a foot to nearly 3 feet.

In Rutland County, Killington reported 30 inches of snow, followed by 27 inches of snow in West Rutland, 22 inches in Rutland, and 20 inches in Poultney.

Central Vermont, including Washington County, appeared to be the hardest-hit region. Montpelier reported 30 inches of snow as did Waterbury Center. Barre had 28 inches of snow, Worcester, 27 inches, Northfield, 25.8 inches, and Plainfield, 19 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

The following is a link to National Weather Service's "unofficial observations" of snowfall totals from around Vermont reported Thursday morning:

Rutland schools and many others throughout the state continue to be closed today, the third in a row the district has declared a snow day.

State reacts

At least 29 cows and heifers were killed during the collapse of 10 barns due to the weight of snow.

"There have been some casualties among farm animals," Gov. James Douglas said Thursday.

Dairy farms on isolated roads that had not been plowed faced another problem. If milk trucks continued to be unable to reach them, they could be forced to dump their milk.

"Some back roads have been impossible for milk trucks," Douglas said.

The governor said those roads should be a priority and he promised the state would help towns plow them where possible.

Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, a former president of the Associated General Contractors of Vermont, asked members of the organization to help farmers and others dig out after the storm.

"Even though it has stopped snowing, the danger is still there," he said.

The cold temperatures meant the snow was not very heavy, one reason there were relatively few power failures. However, if the weather warms up, that could change, Scott said.

"There could be some other major collapses," he said.

Douglas said the common sense of Vermonters who helped one another and stayed off the roads as much as possible is one reason he opted not to declare a state of emergency.

"Everyone was cooperating and doing a great job," he said.

Despite the weather, Douglas said he made the journey home from Central Vermont to Middlebury Wednesday night. He said his decision was "prudent" because he has a four-wheel-drive car and an experienced state police driver.

Douglas urged high school students to use some of their time off from school to help neighbors shovel out. He also warned Vermonters to take frequent breaks during shoveling to avoid back injuries and heart attacks, to not idle their cars if the exhaust pipes are buried under snow, and to make sure that heaters or generators are not causing dangerous back-ups of carbon monoxide.

As for his own driveway, Douglas said his snow blower broke partway through cleaning up from the blizzard.

"The third biggest snow fall in history and the spring broke," he said. "I have to get a part."

State offices remained closed Thursday morning and reopened at noon. Designated staff providing essential services worked throughout the storm.

Digging out

As the storm blew out of the region Thursday, Vermonters spent much of the day digging out.

Vermont's electric companies, braced for widespread power failures, reported only scattered problems.

Central Vermont Public Service, the state's largest utility with 155,000 customers, reported only about a dozen temporary power interruptions affecting fewer than 500 households.

"The majority of our outages have been pole accidents involving plow trucks," CVPS spokeswoman Christine Rivers said.

The electric company said it was helped by the kind of snow that fell dry and light instead of wet and heavy.

"We had our people prepared for this, but we dodged a bullet," Rivers said. "We're very lucky."

Paul Clifford, Rutland City Police Works Department commissioner, said he is asking city residents and motorists to remain patient as crews work to clear roads and sidewalks.

"Our objective was to keep main roads open and we did that, and as the storm winded down we got to the secondary streets and neighborhoods and cleared them open," Clifford said Thursday morning.

He tried to allow several members of the road crew to go home and get some rest Thursday morning to prepare for the work ahead.

"Coming in (Thursday) night, and I suspect for the next three or four days, we're going to be picking this snow up," Clifford said. "Also, we're going to start clearing the sidewalks the best we can We're going to concentrate on those."

In addition, he said, road crews will cut down the size of snow banks at busy intersections to improve visibility.

"There's going to be a lot of clean-up, there's going to be three or four days at least and I hope people are patient," he said. "There's no way we're going to have all the sidewalks ready by (today), maybe by Sunday."

Motorists were asked to stay off all roads until late morning Thursday to allow crews to work.

Postal service

The stone on the outside of The James A. Farley Post Office in Manhattan says, "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds," but Wednesday's closure of Vermont highways to tractor-trailers meant local post offices had little or no mail to deliver Thursday.

In Vermont, most mail is funneled through a processing and distribution center in White River Junction. But the Vermont Emergency Management's decision to bar tractor-trailers overnight stopped most mail from reaching post offices.

"There's really no mail in the system for us to sort and deliver," Rutland City Postmaster Sal Vitagliano said Thursday morning.

The White River Junction postal center was operating Thursday morning and local post offices hoped to receive mail as the day progressed.

"Friday we expect to have full delivery," Vitagliano said.

Economic effects

The storm was a mixed economic blessing.

The state's ski areas got a huge boost just in time for the Presidents Week holiday the last holiday of what, until now, has been a disappointing season. Ski industry officials say the abundance of snow not only guarantees a successful holiday but also should help resorts into March and April as the season winds down.

As more skiers head to the slopes, ski-dependent businesses including restaurants, inns and shops will benefit as well.

But there was a downside to the blizzard. Businesses of all kinds closed early Wednesday and opened later on Thursday. The storm was a disaster for many restaurants that expected to do a booming business on Valentine's Day.

"We lost one of the biggest days of the year," said Dimitrios Ieremias, owner and executive chef of the Fair Haven Inn.

While some guests will simply reschedule their Valentine's Day dinners for another evening, Ieremias said he's unlikely to recoup all his losses. "We cannot fight Mother Nature," he said.

Business was also scarce for downtown Rutland merchants.

Tattersall's Clothing Emporium on Merchants Row saw one customer Wednesday before closing at 2:30 p.m., said manager Jen Pattillo. The store reopened at noon Thursday, two hours later than normal.

Whatever the economic downside from the storm, the head of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce said the overall impact should be positive for the state's winter tourism industry.

But Thomas Donahue also said the timing of the storm could have been better.

"If it had to fall on any day that things shut down, including restaurants, and people were kept off the roads, it was pretty bad timing," said Donahue, the chamber's executive vice president. "You can't control Mother Nature but it was unfortunate it fell on Valentine's Day."

Area florists were catching up from the storm Thursday, making Valentine's Day deliveries one day late.

"We're finishing up today," said a woman who answered the phone at Hawley's Florist on Center Street.

State economist Jeffrey Carr said the storm's impact is hard to gauge. In addition to the ski areas, the weather was good news for plowers but not so good for offices and other businesses forced to close, he said.

Carr said a storm of this magnitude is something the state takes in stride.

"Winter is a fact of life here," said Carr, a partner in Policy and Economic Resources in Williston.

The storm meant lost business for the Diamond Run Mall and its 52 stores. The mall closed early Wednesday and didn't reopen until noon Thursday, said mall Manager Chris Thayer.

"There definitely were losses yesterday (Wednesday) and a big storm like that is going to do that to you," Thayer said.

To the best of his knowledge, Thayer said the last time there was a storm-related mall closing was 1998.

Ascutney Mountain Resort reported 30 new inches of snow from Wednesday's blizzard, just in time to kick off the holiday weekend.

"Things are wonderful," said Marketing Director Bill Henney. "The snow is nice and fluffy and the skiing's great. The whole mountain is open and the phone's been ringing off the hook."

Henney said that because the mountain has expanded its range of activities for families, it has become a multipurpose resort.

"Our numbers weren't too far off for Presidents Day," he said. "We have so many new activities, like a teen center with a DJ and plenty for families to do that the skiing's almost become an amenity. We've become a destination resort."

Daytime skiing, though, had been down about 10 percent, Henney said, "but we hope to sell out now. We're hopeful that this storm has brought enough snow to guarantee spring skiing."

Other news

In other weather-related news:

  • Rutland City Hall reopened Thursday morning; municipal offices regionwide also were either open or trying to reopen in a timely fashion.

  • Freight and commercial flights at Rutland State Airport resumed Thursday, according to Airport Manager Tom Trudeau. "We're open, we're digging out still," Trudeau said. "We'll be out here keeping things up for the next couple of days."

  • At Blue Seal Feeds in Brandon, snow collapsed the roof of a shed used as a back-up storage space for bagged goods. Manager David Bodette said he did not believe anything was lost in the collapse and that it was not interfering with operations Thursday.

    "First of the week, we've got someone coming to take care of it for us," he said. "We'll get it all cleaned up and rebuild in the spring, probably."

  • The University of Vermont remained closed until today. College of St. Joseph was scheduled to open again Thursday at 1 p.m.; Castleton State College was scheduled to be open for evening classes Thursday; Community College of Vermont remained closed all day Thursday.

  • Amtrak is operating a normal schedule between Washington, New York and Boston, including Acela Express service. Some trains on the Keystone Corridor between Harrisburg, Philadelphia and New York have been canceled and delays can be expected.

    Due to heavy snow, Amtrak's New York-to-Rutland Ethan Allen Express was cancelled Wednesday. The northbound Washington-to-St Albans Vermonter was scheduled to operate over its normal route, but the southbound Vermonter will originate in Springfield, Mass.

  • Trails at both Killington and Pico were closed Thursday due to high winds and wind chill.

  • The Rutland Herald, which is printed at sister newspaper The Times Argus in Barre, couldn't start delivery until Thursday afternoon because of road conditions.

    Some carriers made home deliveries on Thursday; the rest plan to deliver Thursday's paper this morning, with the Friday edition.

  • Pittsfield News distributors didn't receive any Boston or New York newspapers Thursday, so it had nothing to deliver to stores in Rutland County and parts of Bennington and Windham counties. The company anticipated out-of-town newspapers would be back on local shelves today.

    Southern Vermont

    Southern Vermont seemed to have weathered the Valentine's Day blizzard well, though blowing and drifting snow on Thursday caused some concerns.

    "The guys have been up all night," said Vicki Lucius, office manager for Springfield's town garage. "They may get a break (Thursday) and go home at 3:30 (p.m.). We might have to call them back depending on how bad the drifting snow gets, but it's mostly been going into open areas."

    As of 3 p.m. Thursday in Springfield, the main roads and side streets were open and traffic was moving smoothly.

    In Windsor County, VTrans District 4 manager Tammy Ellis said all 500 miles of the county's roads were open.

    "It went very well," she said. "We got lots of positive feedback, but the crews are drained. They were out all night. But there were no serious accidents or obstructions."

    New Hampshire Southwestern Mutual Aid, which also handles dispatch chores for Windham County, said motorists had gotten the message and stayed off the roads.

    "It's been pretty quiet," said a dispatcher. "We didn't do a whole lot yesterday, and we haven't done much today. There was a house fire in Winhall, but that's been it."

    Dispatchers at the Bennington Police Department said they received no accident reports Thursday and at the Vermont State Police barracks in Shaftsbury, there were only minor fender-benders or reports of cars sliding off the road.

    Kevin Robinson, spokesman for the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, said doctors in the hospital's emergency room reported they were a little busier than they would be on an average Thursday.

    Robinson said the hospital had not seen an unusual number of storm-related injuries such as exposure.

    "(The doctors) did say it was very, very quiet during the storm on Wednesday," he said.

    Reporters Alan J. Keays, Sarah Hinckley, Gordon Dritschilo, Louis Porter, Patrick McArdle, Stephen Seitz and Kevin O'Connor contributed to this report.

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