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Emergency and utility crews prepare to face Old Man Winter’s wrath

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MASSENA - Old Man Winter reared his ugly head in St. Lawrence County on Friday, and utility and emergency response crews spent the day preparing for the worst ahead of an unpredictable storm that could unleash icy fury on the region through Sunday.

The National Weather Service in Burlington, Vt., issued a winter weather advisory in effect until 4 a.m. today with a three-hour gap before a winter weather watch goes into effect at 7 a.m.

“You might see all types of precipitation this weekend,” meteorologist Jessica A. Neiles said.

She said the St. Lawrence Valley could expect 4 to 7 inches of snow by this morning, at which point the precipitation is likely to turn to freezing rain and sleet. The National Weather Service advisory calls for the possibility of ice accumulations up to an inch by Sunday morning.

Massena Village Police Chief Timmy J. Currier said officials made preparations for the forecast calling for snow, sleet and significant icing. “The village of Massena is prepared to respond to this weather event. We spent time on Friday communicating with our employees and organizing to ensure we are ready to mobilize both equipment and staff as needed,” he said.

“Emergency Services leadership communicated today to ensure we are prepared to respond as necessary. We currently are not opening the Emergency Operations Center (town hall building) as we are confident that we can open the EOC and get key personnel there in a short period of time. However we are monitoring the weather and this evaluation is ongoing and should circumstances support it, Mayor (James) Hidy will direct the opening of it,” Mr. Currier added.

He said in the event of a major weather event of snow and or ice it is preferable for people to plan to shelter in place in their home if it can be done safely. There are some simple steps we advise people take to prepare for the forecasted weather event, according to the village police chief.

■ Ensure they have a minimum of three day’s supply of food and water for everyone in their household.

■ If they have an alternative heat source, check it make sure it is working safely and it is prepared and supplied for use as designed.

■ Ensure you have alternative lighting source, preferably battery powered.Open flame light sources are dangerous and discouraged.

■ Ensure any medical supplies are stocked such as medicines and medical devices.

■ Use the buddy system - check on your neighbor and your neighbor checks on you. This is especially critical in the case of elderly people, people with special needs or those that live alone. People are encouraged to speak to their neighbor in advance and work out the details of routine checks. “I caution those that intend to be able to check on someone that does not live in close proximity to them, since in the event of road closures mobility will be limited, therefore the preferred method is a trusted neighbor in close proximity,” Mr. Currier said.

St. Lawrence County Interim Emergency Services Director Keith J. Zimmerman said Friday that he had spent the last couple of days planning out an emergency response that might have to be deployed quickly if the worst of the weather predictions becomes reality.

“We will probably stage an emergency operations center and staff it tomorrow in anticipation of an icing event,” he said. “We won’t staff a full EOC tomorrow, but we’ll staff it if we have to and set up shelters if we have to.”

There were a number of minor car accidents throughout the county due to slick road conditions, he said.

“This is not predicted to be as catastrophic as the ice storm of 1998, but it will be significant, and people are urged to be cautious,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “If you don’t need to travel, it’s probably best to not be traveling.”

The storm comes as a humber of county residents are either making plans to leave the region or waiting for relatives from outside to arrive for the Christmas holiday. It also comes on what would be expected to be a busy weekend for last minute shoppers.

National Grid had already contacted the county and planned to make extra crews available to respond to downed power lines and trees if necessary, he said.

Utility spokesman Patrick D. Stella said the company had deployed approximately 100 line and tree crews to the north country without knowing how bad the weather will turn.

“We know the storm is going to hit Northern New York along the St. Lawrence and Black River valleys, so we’re staging them in Watertown, Malone, Saranac Lake and along that whole area,” Mr. Stella said. “Storms like this are very, very unpredictable, especially when it comes to ice. It’s all within a couple of degrees that any ice accumulation will be possible, so we’ll have to see where they are needed Saturday night and Sunday morning.”

As of 6 p.m. Friday, no outages had yet been reported in the north country.

“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” Mr. Stella said.

Massena Electric Department Superintendent Andrew J. McMahon echoed that sentiment.

“We’ve had contact with our regular contractors such as Putney Tree Service to make sure they’ll be available this weekend, as well as our own internal crews to see who will be around this weekend, and other municipalities to see who would be able to help us if the storm does hit,” Mr. McMahon said. “We’ll be ready to react to whatever happens.”

The heaviest precipitation is forecast from Saturday night until Sunday morning.

“Sunday morning should be pretty messy,” Ms. Neiles, the meteorologist, said.

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Staff writer Benny Fairchild contributed to this report.

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