Snow ‘dump’ sends a chill through s. Vermont, causes widespread power outages, car accidents

By Cynthia Prairie and
Shawn Cunningham

©2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

For those in the southern Vermont region straddling Windham and Windsor counties, you know you got hit with snow – anywhere from 18 to more than 36 inches of it. Can’t open the front door snow; trees and power lines are down snow; don’t care how beautiful it is snow; even Florida looks pretty good right now snow.

Chester Police Chief Tom Williams speaks with a motorist about wires in the road on Thursday Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Throughout the Northeast two-day storm caused power outages to 270,000 households by Tuesday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.US, with 232,510 remaining in the dark around 10 that night.

Roads were difficult to navigate and accidents and slide-offs numerous, sending emergency and police scrambling to help.

On Thursday, Chester Police Chief Tom Williams told The Telegraph that that town’s fire, police, ambulance and road crew worked together to answer an almost constant stream of calls while also keeping an eye out for the welfare of elderly and less mobile residents.

He pointed to a white board in the fire station showing more than two dozen calls including trees down on wires, wires in the road, a carbon monoxide alarm a tractor trailer stuck on Rt. 11 west and one entry that just said “firewood.” Williams explained that firefighters checking on  an elderly couple found that they didn’t have heat, so they moved firewood from the basement for them to use.

“The Fire Department normally has firefighters (in the station) during a big storm so you don’t have firefighters trying to get out of their driveways to come here and answer an alarm,” said Williams, adding that the Police Department tries “to do the same thing.”

The police had two officers on the schedule and Williams called in a third on Tuesday.

The Chester Highway Department “is a good resource for us – they’re out and about telling us ‘this road is closed and that road is closed.’ ”

Williams said a lot of drivers ignored Road Closed signs, which is not just illegal but dangerous and possibly deadly wires are down. And, he said, when someone drives down a closed road and gets stuck – as a tractor trailer driver did on Rt. 11 West – that could block crews from getting through to plow and work on the power.

Two power crews from Kentucky work on an outage on Grafton Street

“It’s one thing after another,” says Williams. “The power (outage) is tripping alarms, there are medical issues with people on oxygen and a lot of little fires to put out and then we start getting calls from relatives who can’t get in touch with people up here.”  And while police and firefighters conduct welfare checks, trees keep coming down and more people are losing power.

For many people, no electricity meant no phone, cell service or internet, no cooking and no heat.

“Knowing that power was starting to go out, we opened up a warming space,” said Williams noting that, while the town does not have a shelter that meets FEMA standards, people could come to the Fire Department’s training room from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to warm up, get some coffee and charge devices.

“The good part about it was the cohesion between the Police, Fire and Ambulance and the town Highway Department,” said Williams as he received a call for wires down on Route 11 East.

Kristen Carlson, of Green Mountain Power, said GMP has been working hard to repair the power outages throughout the state. They prepared early by contracting with out-of-state crews to supplement the GMP force to be ready when the snows hit on Monday night.

Snow totals in our region: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tracked snow totals from the storm. The darkest shades are above 36 inches.

Click image to enlarge. Snow totals in our region: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tracked snow totals from the storm. The darkest shades are above 36 inches.

As she headed from her Montpelier home to Springfield and Chester on Thursday to assess the situation and speak with work crews, she said that the difficulty with this storm “has to do with where the storm hit the hardest. The storm track shifted. … It strengthened and impacted every area that we serve.”

Extra power crews had to be brought in, she said, as she listed the sending jurisdictions: Quebec, New Brunswick, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. As of midday Thursday,  she said, power had been restored to 75,000 customers, with less than 12,000 to go.

As power outages began to occur and GMP started toting up the “extensive damage,” GMP crews, she said, began working with first responders to help them get to where they needed to go.

By Friday afternoon, remaining area town power outages were:

  • 245 Grafton
  • 100 Chester
  • 71 Rockingham
  • 53 Springfield
  • 14 Londonderry and
  • 1 each in Andover, Cavendish and Weston.

Carlson expected everyone to have power again some time on Saturday.


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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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