By Eileen Gallagher
For some, winter is a time to embrace the cold and all the activities it brings. Skiing, skating, and sitting by a crackling fire are big draws for those that are more “snowbird” than “sun worshiper.” Though seasonal tufts of snow can be fun, many residents recall winters that were a significant challenge (Superstorm Sandy is still quite fresh in everyone’s memory).
During the first real storm of the season, on Sunday, November 2nd of this year, fallen trees left several homes without power for much of the day. Communication was steady as Supervisor Rob Greenstein updated residents via Facebook on the current status of ConEd service calls and road closures. Though the storm was unusual due to the sudden but predicted high winds, it was a sobering reminder of seasons past.
Several residents were kind enough to share their winter woes, and ways to prevent a repeat of past misfortunes. Joyce Wong will never forget the blizzard of 2011. As a matter of fact, people often ask her if she is expecting visitors during the winter before making their own plans, because there is usually a travesty with the weather for Wong and her guests.
“I saw the power line snap,” recalled Wong, describing the tree limb that fell on the ConEd line to her home from the street. It was the year that 10 inches of snow fell very quickly, and the resulting loss of power prevented her from pumping water from her flooded basement. Six days without power left Wong cooking meals on an outdoor grill. Her husband was able to purchase one of two remaining portable generators from a hardware store, which enabled the use of either a toaster or a television. Visitors from Washington, D.C. had to stay with the Wongs while Amtrak and Metro North remained out of service.
“People had lived here for years and never lost power,” said Wong.
Hurricane Irene was very challenging for Judy McGrath. No power for three days kept her sump pump from operating, leaving a flood in her basement. Coupled with Sandy, which left her home with no power for four days, the storms were the reason the McGrath’s purchased a whole-house generator for their home.
One of McGrath’s neighbors had a generator during Irene, and was kind enough to allow other families to hook into it. “Three basements were kept pumped by one generator,” said McGrath. When she decided to install one, between the paperwork, variances, and fees, the process took much longer than expected, and was quite onerous.
Sandy caused problems for many, but some experienced much longer outages than others due to blocked roads. Shiyang Paskowitz had no electricity for two weeks in 2012, and her family was stranded in their home for the first few days with no ability to even phone or text. Neighbors worked together to cut downed trees into movable pieces and clear the road for accessibility. After that, the Paskowitz family was able to drive to Washington D.C. to stay with family.
Erin Ringham had just moved from one house in New Castle to another when Sandy struck. Unfortunately, her new home did not yet have a generator. The home she had sold was the only one in the neighborhood with power, however, and she heard from friends that the new owners were providing neighbors with hot cocoa and coffee during the outage. It wasn’t long before Ringham’s new home was equipped with a generator.
What do all of these women recommend others do to prepare for winter?
In addition to a generator, McGrath suggests roof heating cables, which are low-current electrical cables that can be turned on during a snowstorm to prevent ice from forming. This would allow homeowners to avoid frozen gutters and the dreaded ice damming many experienced with the snow of 2014. Wong urges people to fill gas cans at the first mention of a major storm, using an additive such as “Sta-Bil” to keep the gas in good condition for longer storage. Paskowitz recommends having insulation installed in the attic, as well as a tall ladder to allow for immediate removal of snow and ice from the roof.
What is New Castle doing to prepare for winter? According to Greenstein, the town is in good shape as far as salt supplies, with enough on hand to handle up to four storm events with more on the way. The town has added to the DPW plowing staff for a primary crew of 17 with five more as back-up, all having received the Cornell University operations and safety training. Two new salt spreaders are being added to the fleet, as well as rented sidewalk-clearing Bobcat. Most importantly, the town has established an Emergency Preparedness Committee. Per Greenstein, “There are many emergencies that can impact New Castle. The most common are severe weather, power outages and flooding. Although these emergencies cannot be eliminated, we can reduce the risk of injuries, property damage and economic impact through individual and community preparedness.” The purpose of the committee is to assist in planning and preparation for emergency operations.
“Be Prepared,” the famous Boy Scout motto, has its merit. Preparing ahead of a storm or blizzard benefits everyone. For instance, gathering necessary supplies before conditions get hazardous keeps people off the roads. Powering up phones and devices before a potential outage provides access to town and police updates. Keeping trees trimmed and monitored make falling limbs less likely to take down power lines or gutters.
Finally, Paskowitz summed up the best way to stay safe during winter storms; “When the weather is bad, STAY HOME!”
Eileen Gallagher, her husband, two sons, and two dogs have been happily living in Chappaqua for over 11 years. Previously an accountant and elementary school teacher, she is now a freelance writer and enthusiastic volunteer both in town and beyond.