By Mike Eldred
DEERFIELD VALLEY- Local towns are preparing for the worst, but the latest forecast from the National Weather Service suggests Hurricane Sandy’s impact on Deerfield Valley towns may be far less than had been feared.
The NWS has issued a high wind warning in southern Vermont, in effect until 11 am Tuesday. Forecasters say winds will increase throughout the day today, reaching 26 – 37 mph with gusts as high as 49 mph late this afternoon. Rainfall could be heavy at times, with up to 3/4 of an inch falling before evening.
Wind speeds will continue to increase into the evening, reaching 28 – 37 miles per hour tonight, with gusts up to 60 mph. There may be periods of heavy rain, with between one and two inches falling overnight.
By tomorrow, Tuesday, the worst of the storm will have passed southern Vermont, and winds will drop to about 25 mph with gusts as high as 41 miles per hour. The NWS predicts rainfall amounts between 1/4 and 1/2 of an inch during the day on Tuesday. By Tuesday evening, winds should be about 12 – 17 miles per hour, and tapering off into the evening.
On Sunday, Gov. Peter Shumlin declared a state of emergency in preparation for the storm, allowing the state to use National Guard assets and other federal resources if needed. Shumlin told Vermonters to be ready for power outages. “I want to stress – this is not another Irene,” he said. “The main concern we have here is the wind. The wind will be strong enough to easily take down trees and power lines with them; so Vermonters should prepare for power outages over the next couple of days.”
As of 3:30 pm today, Green Mountain Power was reporting numerous outages in southern Vermont, including an outage in Wilmington affecting 1138 customers, an outage in Whitingham affecting 103 customers, and an outage in Halifax affecting 14 customers. There were also outages in Stamford, Readsboro, and Marlboro.
According to GMP, line crews have already been positioned throughout the area, bringing in 250 additional workers and tree trimmers to restore power.
At an emergency meeting today, fire chief Ken March said the town is implementing lessons learned during Tropical Storm Irene. “We have our CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) ready to help,” March said, noting that CERT volunteers have completed only a portion of their training. “But at least we’ll have a larger, somewhat trained, pool of volunteers if we need them.”
March said the Red Cross has delivered shelter supplies, including cots, blankets, MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat), and water. “School has been canceled and the generator is in place, so if we have to get a shelter up and running, it will only take a short time,” he said. “But at this time, we’re not anticipating having to open a shelter.”
Although March noted that the storm isn't expected to deliver as much rain to the region as Irene, he said emergency crews will be monitoring the water level in the Deerfield River and will sound the evacuation alarm if necessary.
Wind damage and power outages are the most likely problems people in the valley will face, March said, especially as winds increase overnight. “If power goes out and people have medical concerns, they should call us,” he said. “Otherwise, if you can, shelter in place.”
March advised local residents to avoid downed power lines. “There’s no such thing as an unenergized wire,” he said. “If you see power lines on the ground, stay away from them.”
In the event that landline phones are inoperable, March said cell phones should still work, and Wilmington residents with an emergency can call 911 or, in the event that the statewide emergency system is down, call Wilmington Police at (802) 464-8593 – that number, he said, will either be manned by a local dispatcher or by state police dispatchers.
Classes at Twin Valley High School, Whitingham Elementary/Twin Valley Middle School, and Deerfield Valley Elementary School were cancelled today in anticipation of the hurricane. Twin Valley High School Principal Bob Morse said Wilmington and Whitingham haven’t made any decision regarding classes on Tuesday. “At this point we’re still on hold,” he said. “We’ll make that decision in the morning.”
Dover School sent students home early today, and officials plan to make a decision on Tuesday classes sometime this evening. (Watch for an update, power permitting.) Dover officials will be meeting at 5 pm today.
Wilmington, which was severely impacted by Tropical Storm Irene has had several meetings since Thursday in preparation for the storm. In Wilmington and other towns, emergency responders have topped off fuel tanks in generators and emergency vehicles, and prepositioned some assets in the event of an emergency. The MOOver, for instance, has prepositioned two buses at Dover School to assist with evacuation if necessary. West Dover Fire Chief Rich Werner said Deerfield Valley Rescue would have two people manning the ambulance at the West Dover station. “During Irene medical personnel had a hard time getting here because we were cut off for a while. This time we’ll have people here.”
The Vermont Emergency Management emergency operation center has been activated and is operating at level IV, the highest level of incident response.
Dover School officials say they'll hold off on deciding whether it's safe to hold classes tomorrow until early tomorrow morning, and use their alert system to notify parents if school is called off.
West Dover Fire Chief Rich Werner said those who may need assistance with storm-related difficulties can call the Dover Police Department's emergency line at (802) 464-2020.