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

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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.

Ogdensburg City Manager John M. Pinkerton said the city was prepared to set up a command center at the police station and, if necessary, emergency shelters at Grant C. Madill and John F. Kennedy elementary schools and Ogdensburg Free Academy.

“It could be something that blows by or something more serious,” he said. “But having gone through an ice storm, we just put together a hazard mitigation plan last week, and we have generators where we think they should be. We have a plan.”

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.”

By mid-day Friday there had already been a fair 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.”

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 was forecast from tonight until Sunday morning.

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

Staff writer Benny Fairchild contributed to this report.

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