Hours after the snow stopped falling, Windham County continued to dig out from a late-winter nor’easter that dumped 3 feet of snow — or more — in many spots in higher elevations.
The storm knocked out power, telephone, cable, and internet for thousands. In the process, residents found themselves stranded in cold, dark homes as their roads were rendered impassible by downed trees, live wires, disabled vehicles, accidents, and — everywhere — thick, heavy snow.
With his southern Vermont readers reporting accumulations ranging from a foot to 40 in. at Mount Snow, regional weather watcher Dave Hayes, based in Northampton, Massachusetts, described the event as “a memorable late-season elevation-dependent snowstorm.”
Emergency personnel and local officials are caught in a contradictory role of issuing appeals for residents’ patience, yet also urging those needing assistance not to hesitate to call on their towns’ emergency personnel if they are in need of help.
All told, businesses, schools, municipal offices, and most every aspect of life in the county ended up with at least one snow day for the record books.
Power outages affect 32,405 in county
“The peak number of customers out was at 11:15 a.m. on March 14, 2023 — 12,845 customer were without power and another 19,560 had been restored in Windham County at that time,” Kristin Carlson, a spokesperson for Green Mountain Power, told The Commons on Wednesday afternoon, 18 hours after the newspaper was unable to meet its normal Wednesday morning press schedule for this week’s issue because of snowbound personnel and utility outages throughout the region.
By midday on Wednesday, the utility had restored power to more than 59,000 customers. In Brattleboro, Brattleboro Fire Chief Leonard Howard III said in a news release issued later that afternoon that 16% of the town remained without power.
GMP’s interactive outage website reported 9,622 customers in the county without power due to 489 “active incidents” on Wednesday evening.
Carlson said that the power company had called out reinforcements, tripling its field force in advance of the storm. She said that more than 500 utility and tree workers from utilities based outside the contours of the snowstorm — including Quebec, New Brunswick, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island — have swarmed to Vermont as part of the industry’s mutual aid arrangements.
But even with that added oomph, GMP and local officials are all cautioning the public that some residents might have to wait four to five days for electricity to be restored.
“Actual power restoration work is intentionally limited today, due to the amount of work required to open up the roads,” Putney Fire and Rescue wrote in a message posted to a public Putney group on Facebook at noon on Wednesday.
Clearing the roads
“GMP crews have been working very hard throughout town, with the primary focus of getting roads open and free of utility obstruction,” the post continued. “All wires that are down in roadways will be relocated (if not reattached to poles) and grounded to make them safe.”
The Putney road crew has been “concentrating heavily on the Holland Hill and Putney Mountain Road areas this morning, working to open the roads up to the extent we are all accustomed to,” the post continued. “This has been a very difficult process, due to the 4 feet of snow we received in these areas.”
Grafton Fire & Rescue reported “a large tree and wires across Route 121E which stymied the Rescue Squad headed west on a call this morning,” the volunteers wrote on Tuesday after trying to respond to a garage fire. A visiting power crew “arrived after having to cut their way into Grafton and open the road for us, and then cut power at the fire scene.” Rockingham firefighters assisted on the call.
In Brattleboro, after seven crews with the Department of Public Works worked all night on Tuesday, they reported 48 roads obstructed, mostly trees and wires down.
The town is maintaining an interactive map of roads that are impassable at bit.ly/706-bratt-roads.
On Wednesday, the Dummerston Selectboard issued an announcement that a number of roads in town were still blocked by trees and wires, including East-West Road (from the Covered Bridge to the town center), Middle Road, Knapp Road, Kipling Road, Dutton Farm Road, Black Mountain Road, Howland Road, Rice Farm Road, Park Laughton Road, Spaulding Road, Miller Road, Bunker Road, Stickney Brook Road, and Wicopee Hill Road.
On Wednesday afternoon, the accumulated mounds of snow narrowed Main Street in Brattleboro as drivers were forced to park their cars outside of the markings.
“DPW has both sidewalk tractors out and working and will continue to until completed,” Howard wrote. “Crews will be going out tomorrow to open all the storm drains to prepare for the rain forecasted for Friday. Downtown snow removal will be delayed until they achieve getting all the roads open for thru travel.”
Lots of accidents, few injuries
Vermont State Police started logging accidents almost as soon as the snow began falling on Monday night.
Between 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and 7 a.m. Wednesday, their records show 169 weather-related crashes throughout the state. Of these accidents, 87 took place in southern Vermont, and eight resulted in injuries.
At 2 a.m. Tuesday, the Agency of Transportation invoked the state’s chain-up law for operators of trucks and other large vehicles traveling Route 9 between Wilmington and Bennington.
The state closed multiple roads made impassible by trees entangled in power lines, including Route 112 in Halifax, U.S. Route 5 in Guilford, and Route 100 in Wardsboro. Drivers heading north on Route 100 past the intersection of Route 11 in Londonderry also encountered a jackknifed tractor-trailer on Tuesday morning. Various points on Interstate 91 through Windham County were closed during the storm.
IAFF Local 4439, the union representing Brattleboro’s firefighters, announced that personnel on duty on Tuesday “responded to 36 emergencies in 24 hours.”
In Brattleboro, “the Department of Public Works (DPW) is advising many roads are closed or are down to one lane, because of trees and wires down in the roadways,” Howard said, in a public appeal that was echoed throughout the county by other towns’ fire and emergency personnel. “Please use caution traveling.”
Shelters and support
In Putney, Fire Department members, with the support of Putney Cares and other organizations, have performed “a third round of door-to-door citizen wellness checks,” the fire and rescue team wrote in their Facebook post.
Emergency personnel have found ways to help vulnerable people in the region get to Brattleboro Union High School, which was closed for two days because of the snow.
The school has served as a regional congregate shelter, as a “safe place to take cover, warm up, rest and a place to charge cell phones and computers,” Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Mark Speno said in a note to district families.
“The efforts of the Red Cross and their many volunteers is a great benefit to Brattleboro and surrounding towns,” Brattleboro Town Manager John Potter said in a news release.
Jennifer Costa, the regional communications director for the Red Cross, told The Commons that approximately 20 people have been making use of the shelter on Wednesday during the day and into the evening.
In Bellows Falls, Chroma Technology opened a warming shelter for the community. According to the company’s Facebook page, it will remain open until further notice.
A warming shelter was also established at the Putney Central School for Wednesday evening, and in Newfane, where some of the highest accumulations were recorded, Newbrook Fire & Rescue opened its station to the public for warmth and coffee. (“We don’t have food but you can bring your own,” they posted on their Facebook page.)
Officials urge patience and caution
Local officials and EMS personnel are issuing updates that celebrate progress in restoring roads and utilities — albeit not as quickly as anyone wants.
“Many roads are blocked with vehicles that have been stuck, and there are power lines down in places blocking access for the machinery,” wrote Molly Welch, a member of the Marlboro Selectboard, on Wednesday morning in a plea for patience.
In an update on Wednesday afternoon, Putney Fire and Rescue described “significant frustration and definite safety hazards for our municipal crews, as well as for GMP crews” in the long slog to restore power.
Local and state emergency responders have issued a number of requests to area residents:
• Slow down for trucks and crews working in and along the roads. “None of us need our personnel, fire apparatus, highway trucks/equipment, or line trucks hit by someone who is not driving in a safe or appropriate manner,” Putney Fire and Rescue wrote.
• “Though it may seem fun and exciting to drive recklessly on roads that have yet to be fully plowed or open, a few folks found the result of such actions to not be so much fun,” the Putney team added. “We ask drivers, again, to slow down, drive responsibly, and encourage them to not use our roads as off-road courses.”
• Be patient. “We understand the stress levels and the fact that humans can only take so much of being inconvenienced, but the road crews, utility crews, and fire department members all have jobs to do, and are working toward a common goal,” Putney Fire and Rescue wrote. “Please let them do their work, and be respectful of their work. Yelling and screaming at these workers will not improve things at all.”
• If you see an electrical or phone line down, please treat the line as electrified and report it to 911.
• Report an outage at greenmountainpower.com/report-outage/, call at 888-835-4672, or text “OUT” to 46788.
• Though main roads have generally been cleared, avoid travel unless necessary.
• Exercise caution and use proper ventilation when using equipment such as generators and portable heaters.
• Check on your neighbors to make sure they are all right.
• “One of the most important reminders we put out there for every snowstorm: clear your heating vents and check carbon monoxide alarms,” advised Vermont Emergency Management.
• While local officials have asked for patience, residents who truly need help should not hesitate to call 911. “Please do not delay in notifying the fire department,” the Putney firefighters wrote in their Wednesday update. “Now is not the time to worry about disturbing folks, or creating a nuisance.”