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Sun., Nov. 23
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Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Life goes on

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Northern New Yorkers reacted to the sudden onslaught of freezing rain clinging to trees, shrubs, roads, sidewalks and power lines over the weekend with grace and resilience, proving yet again that those of us who choose to live here learned from the past and are adequately prepared for the cruelest blows of winter.

Naturally there are plenty of comparisons to the ice storm of 1998, which was of shorter duration but covered a much wider territory. Where the ice caked everything on the landscape, the damage has been awesome. Old trees that survived the previous ice storm and the micro-burst gave up even more limbs. They crashed to the ground taking out overhead power lines, shorting out transformers and knocking out power to thousands of Northern New Yorkers stuck at home trying to keep warm in the bitter cold of this very tough winter.

This storm is different from 1998 for several reasons.

First, the storm in 1998 came as a surprise. Weather forecasts were not nearly as reliable as the rains began on Jan. 6, 1998.

The National Weather Service was warning of ice in the lower St. Lawrence River valley where freezing rain had caked Quebec with heavy layers of ice.

Predictions of rapid melting of the snowpack in the Adirondacks and heavy rain focused attention on flooding along the Black River.

But we suffered from both the thaw and rain. The rain became super-cooled as it fell, clinging to every possible surface. Trees crashed to the ground, power lines crisscrossed and life ground to a halt.

In 2013, the National Weather Service’s ability to predict coming storms has improved so much that hardly anyone was unaware that trouble lay ahead. Northern New Yorkers prepared. Larders were filled and batteries checked.

Since 1998, the number of home generators has risen geometrically. The agricultural community was ready with reliable generators and communications that depended upon cellphones. No longer with farms isolated because the phone lines lay tangled on the ground with power lines.

Cellphones and cellular Internet connectivity kept families and neighbors in touch. Just how many million cellphone pictures were transmitted this week from the north country will never be known, but what is for sure is that those photos all contained photos of ice-caked trees in front and backyards. And the snowbirds receiving those photos immediately knew their 2013 trip south was worth it.

And we are bouncing back faster than in 1998. That is partly due to the smaller footprint of ice cover.

More important, though, are the lessons learned. The New York State Department of Transportation kept the roads open by working diligently to build a layer of moisture between the road and new ice, allowing plows to more easily scrape away the accumulation.

And the power grid was essentially rebuilt after the 1998 storm, leaving it stronger and more able to resist the ravages of heavy ice. National Grid and the power companies that sent crews to help restore power have met the challenge.

For most of the north country, the heat was on for Christmas.

Kitchens produced the foods that are the foundation of so many family traditions. Churches celebrated the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve.

Life edged toward normalcy, and we anticipate the new year knowing our core strength has been nurtured by the lessons of the past and the resolve of our communities of volunteers and the men and women who worked so hard to clean up the mess.

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