Frigid temperatures trump snowfall in first storm of 2014

The heavy snow and bitter cold has caused misery and aggravation for most, but did provide Greenwich kids like, from left, Kylie Allen, Tyler Young, Lily Osgan, Natalie Allen, Ashley Young, Yoshi Takahashi, Meghan Allen, Lindsay Allen and Yuta Takahashi the chance to enjoy some winter wonderland action as makeshift snow mountains provided chances for sledding. —John Ferris Robben

The heavy snow and bitter cold has caused misery and aggravation for most, but did provide Greenwich kids like, from left, Kylie Allen, Tyler Young, Lily Osgan, Natalie Allen, Ashley Young, Yoshi Takahashi, Meghan Allen, Lindsay Allen and Yuta Takahashi the chance to enjoy some winter wonderland action as makeshift snow mountains provided chances for sledding.
—John Ferris Robben

Winter Storm Hercules lived up to its name last week, bringing powerful winds, bitter cold temperatures and snow accumulations of approximately nine inches to Greenwich and leaving its impact on much of the Northeast.

Marking the first major storm of 2014, Hercules prompted the Board of Selectmen to enact the provisions of a snow emergency in town on New Year’s Day, which remained in effect well into the weekend. Under the snow emergency, no vehicles were permitted to remain parked, stopped or standing on any “Snow Emergency Route” in order to allow snowplows and emergency vehicles to get through. Vehicles in violation were subject to ticketing and immediate towing by town police.

With winds blowing at 10 to 20 mph, including gusts into the 30s, in addition to snow accumulation predicted at six to 12 inches, Greenwich Public Schools released students early on Thursday afternoon, in addition to canceling all after-school activities. Schools were also closed for the day Friday. Cold conditions addtionally forced the cancellation of after-school activities on Monday.

The worst of the storm was expected to bring “near blizzard conditions” Thursday evening, prompting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to direct the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to coordinate with 2-1-1 and Connecticut’s network of shelters to ensure that the state’s most vulnerable people were protected from the severe cold weather.

“I urge anyone in need of shelter to call 2-1-1 and encourage local communities to consider opening warming centers or other facilities to help people in need,” Mr. Malloy said in a statement Wednesday night. And this wasn’t the only time there were concerns about the cold, as Mr. Malloy again urged people to take caution on Monday and Tuesday because of frigid temperatures.

First Selectman Peter Tesei also utilized mass communication last week through Greenwich’s reverse-911 system. Mr. Tesei alerted residents to the emergency on Thursday, warning about possible significant snowfall for Greenwich to go along with severely low temperatures for Thursday and Friday.

In his call, Mr. Tesei warned residents to limit travel and time spent outdoors, while calling attention to the town’s storm preparation.

“The town of Greenwich is fully prepared for the coming snow event,” Mr. Tesei said. “Additional staffing, as appropriate, has been added to Public Works road crews and by Greenwich’s emergency responder agencies. … It is imperative that everyone exercise additional caution during the storm, limit travel to only essential trips and dress appropriately for the bitterly cold conditions.”

While the storm caused several deaths in the Midwest, however, the blizzard-like conditions expected to cripple Connecticut were less severe than initially anticipated. In fact, the number of power outages reported by Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) as a result of the storm was far below that of previous storms in the area, such as 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.

According to CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross, the minimal number of outages in the area was a result of a combination of factors. The company’s recent work to strengthen its system likely played its part in preventing outages, he said, in addition to the fact that the storm’s snow was a powdery consistency, making it lighter than the heavy, wet snow some storms produce.

The recent bitter cold temperatures that have overtaken Greenwich, and much of the country, also seem to have had a minimal impact on power outages, Mr. Gross said. In fact, he said, the biggest contributor to outages as of late has been automobile accidents during which utility poles are struck.

Everything is “so far, so good” this winter, Mr. Gross said.

The town’s director of emergency management, Dan Warzoha, had similar sentiments, explaining that the snowstorm itself did not cause any major problems. The plowing, sanding and cleanup of the storm all went according to schedule, he said. The frigid temperatures that followed, however, created more problems than the storm itself, he said, causing major concern throughout town.

According to Mr. Warzoha, more than 20 residents have suffered water damage as a result of the cold spell, in addition to Greenwich Hospital, the First Baptist Church of Greenwich and other local structures. Perhaps the most significant issue, however, was water damage that occurred at Julian Curtiss School over the weekend as a result of the cold, he said, forcing the school to shut down earlier this week.

Even more unprecedented than the amount of water damage endured throughout town were the number of injuries suffered by residents because of icy roads and walkways, Mr. Warzoha said. Sunday was an “abnormally busy day” for Greenwich Emergency Medical Services (GEMS) workers, who tended to residents in a number of accidents that occurred both on foot and in motor vehicles throughout Greenwich, he said. GEMS even had to utilize an extra ambulance for the day, he added, because of freezing rain coating town roads.

In a reverse-911 call to residents on Monday, Greenwich Police Department Capt. Mark Kordick said that the black ice conditions on Sunday, where ice covers surfaces and is largely invisible to the naked eye, led to several vehicle accidents. Residents were urged to take extra care while driving and walking as black ice resulted from the snow melting and then refreeezing, which led to the dangerous conditions.

While temperatures are expected to rise continually as the weekend approaches, Tuesday’s bitter cold temperatures, with highs in the single digits, prompted Mr. Warzoha to advise homeowners to be alert to potential problems by keeping an eye on the pipes in their homes during cold spells. As a means of precaution, he added, the Public Works staff has been conducting maintenance checks on much of the town’s infrastructure until temperatures get back to normal.

 

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