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Great Barrington says it’s ‘ready’ for ice storm; downed trees and power outages expected

The winter storm warning, which means that significant ice accumulations are likely, takes effect at 5 p.m. today and extends until 7 a.m. Tuesday. Winds could gust to as high as 35 miles per hour.

Great Barrington — If the worst-case scenario proves true, an approaching winter storm could have a devastating effect on Berkshire County and beyond, depositing more than half an inch of ice on trees and utility lines and causing widespread power outages.

The National Weather Service in Albany has issued a winter storm watch for Berkshire County, as well as much of northern and central New England and northern New York, with  half an inch of ice accumulation from freezing rain and up to a few inches of snow and sleet accumulating from tonight and into Tuesday. See map below:

In addition, an actual ice storm warning has been issued for Berkshire County and northern Litchfield County, Connecticut. That warning, which means that significant ice accumulations are likely, takes effect at 5 p.m. today and extends until 7 a.m. Tuesday. Winds could gust to as high as 35 miles per hour.

“Expect power outages and tree damage due to the ice,” the weather service said. “Travel could be impossible.”

Sean Van Deusen, who heads the Great Barrington Department of Public Works, said ice is much more difficult for his crew to deal with than snow.

“The forecasts seem to change,” Van Deusen told The Edge. “There is a good chance of ice accretion but obviously temperatures will play a major role in how much ice we get and how fast we get it.”

Another challenge is if crews treat a road with salt and then it is hit by rain, the salt can wash off of the road and the water can refreeze. And ice, with its transparent quality, can be hard to spot when you’re driving. In Great Barrington, Van Deusen explained, variations in elevation can result in ice in some parts of town and merely wet roads in other portions.

See image below of the ice storm warning areas courtesy Nation Weather Service Albany:

Only a small portion of Great Barrington’s roads are the state’s responsibility. Route 7 from the Claire Teague Senior Center south to the Sheffield line is a state road, but north of the senior center it becomes a town road through downtown and all the way to the Brown Bridge. Route 23 from Belcher Square to the Monterey line and west from the police station to the Egremont line is also the state’s responsibility. But that’s it. The rest are the responsibility of the town DPW.

Van Deusen says it is standard procedure for members of his crew to be on-call, and that during these storms “they sacrifice a lot of time away from their families.” 

Department of Public Works director Sean Van Deusen File photo: Terry Cowgill

“They’ll be waiting for their phones to ring because we want to get ahead of the storm,” Van Deusen explained. “We’ll just keep treating the roads and hope we don’t have too much ice to deal with.”

Another problem with ice storms is that accumulating ice is very heavy and can cause tree limbs to crack and fall under the added weight. Winds cause additional stress on already-weakened trees. This can result in blocked roads and downed utility lines.

For its part, the Great Barrington Fire Department posted on its Facebook page an announcement of precautionary measures motorists and pedestrians alike can take. 

“This is the kind of storm that orthopedic surgeons and auto body shops can make a living on,” the fire department quipped.

The department also noted that residents may use sand from piles deposited by DPW at the Southern Berkshire District Court on Gilmore Avenue and behind the so-called Housy Dome in Housatonic.

If you see downed power lines, assume that they are live. Even the fire department says it will not go near them until the power company has turned off the power. If power goes out and you use a back-up generator, the department urges you to remember all of the safety guidelines, such as keeping it outside. 

“Use common sense out there; it is one of your best tools for a storm like this,” the department says. “Make sure you have sand, gas for your generator, stored water if you are on a well pump, blankets, and safe plans for candles where you will not risk starting a fire.”

Great Barrington Town Manager Mark Pruhenski. Edge file photo

Town Manager Mark Pruhenski said his team is monitoring reports from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) on expected weather conditions. Click here to see the latest updates on the MEMA Twitter feed and here for the National Weather Service Albany’s feed and here for the NWS Albany’s website.

“We will also be in constant contact with National Grid in the event that we experience power outages and share that information with residents,” Pruhenski told The Edge. 

Pruhenski added that Town Hall will be open, “even if only a skeleton staff is able to make it,” unless a state of emergency is issued by the governor’s office for our area.

“Short answer: we’re ready,” said Pruhenski.

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