ADDISON COUNTY — As powerful winds swept through Addison County on Wednesday afternoon, Middlebury residents Mike and Marcia Adams kept a close eye on the wind gauge installed at their Munger Street home.
The wind was howling at a pretty steady 50 or 60 miles an hour, Mike Adams said. It was three or four o’clock in the afternoon by then. Outside, trees cracked and shimmied in the wind.
The gusts that plowed through Bennington, Rutland and Addison counties that afternoon toppled trees and power lines, leaving an estimated 19,000 Vermont households without power.
Suddenly, Mike Adams recalled, the gusts spiked sharply. The couple’s wind gauge registered 100 miles per hour. The gusts died down briefly, but then spiked again — this time at 112 miles per hour.
The wind stripped the asphalt shingles from a larger portion of the Adamses’ roof, brought trees and branches down in their yard, and at one point lifted the couple’s heavy grill from the ground and deposited it in their pool.
“It was blowing,” Adams said, with more than a touch of understatement.
LEFT IN THE DARK
The wind continued to whip through the mountains and eastern edge of the county, even into the evening on Wednesday.
By Friday power had been restored to almost all of Central Vermont Public Service Corp.’s customers, with crews rushing Friday morning to bring power to the last 42 customers — all in Starksboro — still left in the dark after the powerful wind storm.
A CVPS lineman working on a bucket truck in Lincoln Wednesday evening was hit by a 50-foot balsam tree that was blown over in the gale. Joe Kraus, the CVPS vice president for operations, said the lineman wasn’t hurt but the tree didn’t fair so well.
Flying balsam limbs aside, CVPS spokesperson Christine Rivers said the storm provided plenty of challenges for the utility’s work crews: The sheer number of downed trees, branches and utility poles made repair work slow going at times.
The intensity of the wind was unusual in that it snapped off seven or eight utility poles right in a row along Route 116 in Middlebury, Kraus said. But Kraus said the storm was not nearly as devastating as the ice storm in southern Vermont last winter that plunged 55,000 homes into darkness.
Kraus said CVPS crews were helped in their efforts to restore power by the mild temperatures and dearth of ice on Thursday. “At least there’s no snow and it’s not freezing,” he said.
Clean-up crews, which included more than 200 workers, responded from all over Vermont and from as far away as Connecticut, and despite the inherent danger of the work, Kraus said that as of Thursday afternoon no utility crews had reported any injuries in the cleanup.
A MIGHTY WIND
As the wind whistled outside in Lincoln, lights in the village flickered on and off. Town Clerk Sally Ober, who lives in the village, said the Lincoln Neighborhood Watch and volunteer fire company headed out into the gale, alongside members of the road crew, to try to clear paths through the town. Ober said reports came in of trees down on virtually every road in town.
A wind gauge in South Lincoln, near Masterson Road, clocked gusts at 90 miles per hour.
“I was shocked,” Ober said. “I have never seen the wind blow so hard.”
The eastern edge of Middlebury along the bottom of the Green Mountains was buffeted by unusually strong winds. Trees fell on at least four houses in the Butternut Ridge neighborhood, which is just off Route 116 north of Quarry Road in one of the areas hardest hit by the storm in Addison County.
Several residents said these were the strongest winds they’d experienced in the two or three decades they had lived in the neighborhood.
“It was like a wind tunnel,” said Amy Jo Shute.
Shute’s two teenage children were home late Wednesday afternoon when several huge branches of the maple tree in the back yard of their Drew Lane house crashed down on the roof and a car parked nearby.
“The kids were home alone and they got awful scared,” Shute said.
Shute and her husband, Raymond, were returning from jobs in Chittenden County at the time and found their usual path down Route 116 blocked by firefighters in Bristol, who told them the road ahead was closed. So the Shutes detoured to Route 7 and eventually made it out Quarry Road to Route 116 but were forced to park their car at the Case Street Community Club and walk the last quarter-mile home.
Here, too, the way was blocked, this time by uprooted trees and broken utility poles and power lines that littered Route 116.
“We had to go behind the houses there was so much stuff on Route 116,” Shute said, describing a path that other neighbors had tramped through the snow. “It was so dark.”
As she and Ray were joined by a half dozen family members Thursday morning in cutting up the maple and erecting scaffolding from which to repair the roof, Shute said she had been comforted the night before in knowing she could count on the neighbors to take care of her kids if they had needed it.
Also, looking at the hole in the roof and the smashed windows in her car and tallying up the costs in her mind, Shute took some solace in the timing of the storm.
“At least I did my Christmas shopping last week,” she said.
Another Butternut Ridge resident, Middlebury Fire Chief Rick Cole, was also out in his yard Thursday clearing debris from the storm. Cole was among the roughly 28 Middlebury firefighters who headed out into the storm around 4 p.m. Wednesday, working until after midnight to direct traffic and protect residents from downed wires.
The firefighters weren’t alone on the roads; Dan Werner, the director of operations for the Middlebury public works department, said members of the town’s road crew were out all night.
At one point during the response, Cole said, a utility wire came down on a town firetruck, tying up the crew for some time. A tree toppled to the ground near the firetruck, and the wind was blowing so fiercely that, as the truck rattled and shook, the driver assumed the tree had crashed into the vehicle.
“I’ve lived out here for 37 years,” Cole said. “We get wind, but nothing like that.”