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“It's pretty hairy right now:” Berkshire communities in overdrive as snow piles up

Downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts on the morning of March 14th, 2023.
Josh Landes
Downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts on the morning of March 14th, 2023.

As heavy, wet snow batters Berkshire County, municipalities are fighting to keep up with downed trees, power outages, and dangerous road conditions.

The severity of the winter storm is playing out differently around the Berkshires, with elevation proving to be a decisive factor.

County seat Pittsfield, population 43,000, sits at just over 1,000 feet in the center of the region.

“We're very excited to not have as much traffic on the road. That means people really took to the message and stayed away. That allows us and you know, all of our crews, contractors, to do what we need to do, do our job," said Commissioner of Public Utilities Ricardo Morales. “We've gotten probably eight to 12 inches in certain parts of the city, closer to 12 on the eastern side, closer to eight on the on the western side, anywhere in between. We have lots of trees down, the snow is very heavy, and we're responding to that. Eversource is reporting around 2,000 customers with no power and we're working closely with them to get that restored. We're asking people to reach the highway department to report any downed trees on the road and call Eversource for any downed wires or power outage.”

Morales says it’s crucial that residents stay home through Wednesday morning.

“We're keeping the roads clear for essential travel and emergency travel," he told WAMC. "And yeah, we're expecting another eight to 10 inches on top of what we've gotten. So, we're ready. We have shifts coming in at noon to supplement and continue doing the work.”

North Adams, the Berkshires’ second largest community of 13,000, is at 700 feet in the northern reaches of the county just below Vermont.

“We are currently managing several power outages and a lot of wires that are down. Our crews are out plowing to the best of their ability, but there's a lot of snow coming down, and with wires down that makes it more difficult. So, we encourage everyone to please stay home, do not come out, stay home the best they can. We currently have two crews on at the police department and fire department as well as our dispatch being fully staffed," said Mayor Jennifer Macksey. “We have the fire department in the field moving as many trees as they can so National Grid can make their way in to fix the wires as fast as they can. So, periodically or sporadically throughout the city, we are experiencing power outages. But thus far they've been short. We are concerned about the heavy winds that are due to come in this afternoon, but we're taking that one step at a time. All of our communities are in contact with each other. We just had an [Regional Emergency Planning Committees] meeting, and we'll have another one this afternoon. So, thus far, we're doing the best we can with what we have, and our community is fairly safe at this point.”

Great Barrington, the largest town in Southern Berkshire County with a population of 7,000, is just over 700 feet above sea level.

“There’s scattered power outages throughout Great Barrington. It's snowing kind of lightly right now, but it's an old-fashioned blizzard that we don't see very often anymore. And the roads are passable, but there are a lot of trees down, and it's safer for people just to stay home if they can," said Selectboard chair Steve Bannon. “I think the big concern is if this continues as they're predicting until morning, it's going to pile up and it's something we have to watch out for. Plus, the weight of the snow is causing problems on power lines on trees, everything else.”

He suggests that residents take it slow.

“The snow is heavy and shoveling it, especially for people who are seniors like myself, is not a good idea,” Bannon told WAMC.

At higher elevations, the storm is pushing some communities with fewer resources to their limits.

“It's hard to tell because it's blowing around a little bit, but my best guess would be somewhere between 24 and 30 inches right now on the ground," said Pete Miner, fire chief of Savoy, a hill town of 700 sitting at an elevation of around 1,700 in the rural northeastern corner of Berkshire County. “Highway crews are working hard to keep roads open. It's a struggle. I mean, we've seen four to six inches an hour it seems at some points this morning. But I mean, most roads, main artery roads are open. I know the power companies are up here, the tree guys are up here. It's heavy, wet snow. So, it's really affecting just the- Lines being weighted down is one of the biggest problems. It's not even trees falling on the wires, just the heavy snow on the actual lines themselves are taking poles out.”

Miner says it’s an intense situation.

“Anything that happens in Savoy right now is just an all-hands-on deck situation," the fire chief told WAMC. "I mean, the highway and the fire department are working together. There’re civilians that are out plowing roads, keeping things open, helping us out. So, it's pretty much everyone working together up here. That's how we get things done.”

To the west, New Ashford – another Northern Berkshire community with just over 200 residents – is also getting battered.

“Well, we're getting branches breaking off the trees everywhere, we've got trees on lines, a couple of the roads are closed- It's pretty hairy right now," said Road Commissioner Keith LaCasse of KLC Construction Corp, who is responsible for plowing New Ashford’s roads. The town sits at over 1,200 feet.

“This is one of the worst ones I've seen in quite a while," LaCasse told WAMC. "It's, you know, the snow, it’s coming down, was coming down so hard that it was hard to keep up with it. But we've got better than a foot up here now.”

With even more snow on the way, he’s got a simple message about the town’s roads.

“If there's any way possible you can stay off ‘em, you're better off to stay home and stay in a safe place,” said LaCasse.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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