Three nor’easters tax residents, emergency personnel

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WINTER WONDERLAND? Fallen trees blocked Partridge Lane on March 8 after heavy wet snow fell during the second of three recent nor’easters. An Uber driver stoppped on Woodbine Drive to give Nancy Hartle a lift. (Photo by Susan Stumpf))

Carlisle residents continue to recover after three March nor’easters within two weeks caused power outages, damaged trees and structures and at one point left more than 80% in the dark, some for more than four days. 

The third storm arrived on March 13, with snow sticking to trees and houses and wind gusts over 20 m.p.h. Police reported numerous branches in roads and scattered power outages. At 9:50 a.m., 230 customers were without power including in the center of town. At noon, the number was reduced to six after repairs were made, but outages quickly jumped to 61 after a tree fell on power lines near Judy Farm Road. The outage total rose to 75 or 4% of the town, by 2:50 p.m. By Wednesday, March 14, the storm had brought another 23. 8 inches of snow and 33 homes were still without power.

First two storms set the stage

The first storm, a coastal nor’easter, arrived on Saturday, March 3, with strong winds, driving rain and snow. As it moved up the coast, the storm system underwent what is known as “bombogenesis,” which is defined as a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure of at least 24 millibars in a period of 24 hours or less. Over 80 homes were without power, with 13 still lacking lights the next day. 

Just four days later, on Wednesday, March 7, the second nor’easter hit during the night, again with high winds, rain and sleet, eventually changing to heavy, wet snow. Around 12 inches fell on Carlisle by the next morning, March 8, with flurries the rest of the day. At first light, around 20% of homes were without power, but as the sun warmed the dense snow, whole trees toppled and branches broke off, pulling down wires, blocking streets, and damaging cars and houses. By 10 a.m. the outage total rose to 72% of the town and an hour later it was over 80%. “It was the worst I have seen since I have been here,” said Fisher. “It got worse as the day went on.” News sources are suggesting the first two nor’easters could have weakened trees, resulting in additional power outages later on. 

March 13 outage totals rise & fall

To prepare for the March 13 storm, Fisher said that he met with his senior officers. He placed additional personnel on the schedule, had them gas up their cars and purchase additional food and water. At the Department of Public Works (DPW) the workers were busy tuning up trucks and checking the roads, where many damaged tree limbs remained piled on the sides.

Early in the morning on Tuesday, March 13, the National Weather Service continued its winter storm warning, with 12 to 18 inches of snow expected, near blizzard conditions, high winds and blowing snow. Throughout the day snow continued to fall, weighing down tree limbs, with winds causing near white out conditions, and making driving treacherous. 

At 5:30 p.m. on March 13 the unofficial total snowfall was 16 inches. Outages were low throughout the day. After a transformer was repaired in the center of town, the number of outages briefly dropped to six, before rising to 75 at 2:50 p.m. and then dropping to 12 homes by 3:50 pm. Residents on Heald and Page Brook Roads reported outages on the CityintheWoods online forum, with others reporting flickering lights. At 2:55 p.m. Fisher reported that there were currently no road closures and the number of outages was relatively small. However, around 4:30 p.m. Eversource responded to Concord Street after a tree that was leaning on wires began to smolder. “The tree burned most of the way through,” reported Fisher. He said that Concord Street was closed off at South Street, while repairs were made. Power was restored, then turned off again around 7 p.m. while the Eversource tree crew removed the tree.

On March 14 after the storm, Police and the DPW were out clearing branches and clearing intersections, because sight lines were reduced due to snowbanks.

How did Eversource perform? 

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Workers from the State Electric Corporation repaired the power lines by the intersection of Westford and Rockland Roads on March 9 after the second of three recent snowstorms.(Photo by Susan Stumpf)

Fisher said that he had a positive experience working with Eversource during the storms. He explained that he and Carlisle Fire Chief David Flannery met frequently with two Eversource supervisors (also called Community Liaisons), especially during the March 8 storm; each liaison worked 12-hour shifts for 24-hour coverage. Often, an Eversource engineer would join the meetings and would help coordinate the repair schedule. Eversource crews work either ten- or 18-hour shifts, Fisher said. After meeting with the liaison, Fisher and Flannery would coordinate with Davis to plan where the DPW workers would assist. 

Fisher explained that the coordination included planning in advance which four or five streets would be repaired next, allowing tree crews to clear the roads before the line crews arrived.  At 11:30 a.m on March 8, after assessing the situation, Flannery sent out the first of a number of Situational Updates, urging residents to stay off the roads. “We currently have ten main roads that are closed due to trees and wires down. Six other roads are marginally passable,” he explained. Throughout the day four power crews, police and DPW worked to clear roads and get trees off power lines.

Priorities: access roads 

The first order of business on March 8 was to make the main roads passable, said Fisher. He said that at first there was no clear route out of town, which presented a danger in an emergency. Eversource tree crews, workers from the Carlisle DPW, the police and members of the Carlisle Fire Department all pitched in to help clear roads. At first light Fisher said that he had to warn his officers not to get out of their cruisers because the trees and branches continued to fall. 

Normally, power repairs are done in locations based on population density, with main roads worked on first. Eversource splits the town into power delivery grids, Fisher explained. To facilitate support of seniors, Fisher and Flannery directed some of the repairs to the Malcolm Meadows area, South Street, Church Street and other targeted areas with senior citizens. 

Sometimes it was confusing to residents when lights would be on down the street but not at their house, Fisher said. The police station received some calls about the repair work, asking why their power wasn’t on. He explained that power crews had to slowly work their way to transformer links, and at times lights would work at one house while the house next to it may remain dark. 

Each Eversource work crew had a police officer to help direct traffic and provide safety. Fisher had extra police officers and dispatchers on duty, though none slept at the station. “They get better sleep at home,” said Fisher. He said that Ferns donated a meal one day and some local residents also donated meals. “We had a lot of help,” said Fisher. Others helped out in providing services to residents, including Alan Lewis, who helped to coordinate shortwave radio support. Angela Smith, Outreach/Program Manager for the Carlisle Counsel on Aging (COA) and COA Director David Klein assisted in checking on senior residents. 

According to Carlisle Health Agent Linda Fantasia, Village Court on Church Street and Malcolm Meadows did not lose power. The Benfield Housing complex lost power and had a generator for just the common area. A resident on oxygen was connected to the one working outlet via a 100-foot extension cord.

Woman in labor 

Throughout March 8 and the next day, the Fire Department responded to a number of reported wire fires, medical issues and minor car accidents. Early on March 8, the Westford DPW drove a woman in labor to the Carlisle Fire Station. She was then taken by Carlisle ambulance to Concord and transferred to the Concord EMTs for the trip to the hospital. Fisher said the Fire Department was fully staffed throughout.

Warming stations

During the March 8 storm, Fisher said the Police Station received many calls from people asking where to replenish water supplies and charge devices. Both tasks could be done at the warming stations set up at the Carlisle School and the Town Hall. The Gleason Library opened immediately after the storm on Thursday and by Friday it was an extremely popular place to go. Fisher said that residents were also told they were welcome to come to the Police Station to get warm, fill water jugs and charge their devices. 

Asked whether there should have been an overnight shelter, Fisher said he thought it would have been helpful. He said the Police Station received inquiries on whether there was a shelter available. Fantasia said that an overnight shelter was made available years ago at the school but no one stayed overnight. She said the warming center in the Clark Room at the Town Hall, which stayed open until 9 p.m., was more comfortable than the exercise room at the school. Visitors enjoyed the comfortable chairs, use of the microwave, access to news media and many charging stations. One resident reported seeing others napping in the chairs. 

As of press time, the National Weather Service was forecasting another snow storm will bring seven to ten inches of snow in the coming week. ∆