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High winds lash Vermont, downing power lines and closing roads

Large trees, like this one in front of the Middlebury College library, could be seen all over Addison County Friday morning as high winds swept through Vermont. Independent photo/Steve James

Addison County, like much of the rest of Vermont, is dealing with a big wind storm on Friday and bracing for icy weather conditions later today.

Town of Middlebury Emergency Management Director Tom Hanley at noon noted that the winds would be dying down but urged everyone to take care as the storm progressed.

“No, folks, it’s not over,” he said in an early Friday afternoon alert. “The second half of the storm, a cold front, is approaching from the west. It is expected to arrive between 5 and 6 p.m. today. With it comes cascading temperatures, forecast to be sub-freezing between 5 and 6 p.m. and continuing to fall into the single numbers this evening, with wind chills of zero to the minus 0’s.

“Expect blustery winds, and rapidly freezing surfaces as the temperatures fall,” Hanley continued.

Tree falls across Foote Street in Middlebury Friday.
Independent photo/John Flowers

An extreme winter storm with high winds and heavy rains has knocked out power for at least 50,000 customers, according to state officials, and closed roads throughout Vermont.

Trees were downed around Addison County, as well as statewide.

Temperatures were expected to plummet Friday afternoon, leading to dangerous driving conditions starting around 4 p.m.

“This is unique from other storms,” Gov. Phil Scott said at a press briefing Friday morning in Waterbury. “Having a little bit of snow, a lot of rain, and then the severity of the temperature drop. That’s what’s keeping me up at night.”

The storm barreled through Vermont Friday morning with wind gusts of up to 70 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. It was hitting the western side of the state most heavily, affecting Chittenden, Addison, Rutland, Bennington, Franklin and Grand Isle counties.

Whole trees were uprooted around Addison County — most of them pine trees. Some large trees simply broke in the high winds.

A tree down across Washington Street blocked traffic on Friday morning.
Independent photo/Sadie Messenger

Trees were reported down across Route 17 in Starksboro, Washington and Foote streets in Middlebury and elsewhere. Five pines on Storrs Avenue on the Middlebury College campus toppled with the root balls left sticking out of the ground.

The weather service’s Burlington office wrote on Twitter that a 70-mph wind gust clocked in Burlington on Friday tied for the second-highest ever recorded in the city.

At Friday’s press briefing state officials warned of a “flash freeze” expected late Friday afternoon and lasting through the night.

“You need to be where you are going to be tonight by 4 p.m.,” said Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison. “After that, all bets are off and you are taking a tremendous risk.”

Agency of Transportation spokesperson Amy Tatko said the roads would not be officially closed, but was urging everyone not to do any non-essential travel

To see whether a road is closed, Vermonters can check the 511 website,  www.ewengland511.org.

Linden tree tumbles in front of Bristol home Friday.
Independent photo/John Flowers

The governor said that all non-essential state offices would close at 1 p.m. on Friday and continued to urge state workers to work from home, if possible. He said that other employers should follow the state’s lead and enable workers to leave early.

Trees on power lines off Middlebury’s Quary Road on Friday.
Independent photo/Sadie Messenger

State officials also warned that dropping temperatures could imperil people experiencing extended power outages. They encouraged Vermonters to seek shelter and look out for their neighbors.

“The power’s going to be off for quite a while for some people, and it’s going to be very cold on the back end of this system,” said Erica Bornemann, director of Vermont Emergency Management. She said her department would share shelter resources on its website.

Officials also reminded Vermonters to avoid building fires in dangerous places and to ensure that generators are well-ventilated.

Hanley said that the road crews would remain engaged throughout the evening, pre-treating the roads.

“Travel will be hazardous,” he warned. “If travel can wait, please avoid it this evening. This will help DPW condition the roads. To borrow a quote from the old Claymation “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” kids movie, as Yukon Cornelius aptly describes this evening — “’Tis not a fit night out for man nor beast.”

While the focus of town crews changes from cleanup to road treatment, Hanley said, there are still a number of blown down trees straddling and tangled in power lines.

“These cannot be removed until Green Mountain Power crews can safely de-energize the lines. The crews are working, and they’ll get to it. If you are traveling and see cones blocking your way, please don’t try to eek by, there is usually a downed power line there. Go back and find another way.”

After winds blew over five big trees off Storrs Avenue last night five big root balls were exposed above ground.
Independent photo/Steve James

Anyone who doesn’t have power and is in need of a warm-up respite, the Middlebury Police Department is open 24/7 with full emergency power. The police are designating the community room as a warming shelter.

40 foot pine fell between Buttolph Drive garage and neighboring home missing both.
Independent photo/Andy Kirkaldy

“It’s not a 5-star hotel by any means, but you can warm up, charge your devices, use the internet , have a warm drink and otherwise get a break from the cold,” Hanley said.

Outside Addison County, the state opened warming shelters in Shelburne and Norwich.

Front-end snow blanketed parts of the state Thursday night before warm air turned the precipitation to rain.

The storm shut down a number of roads across the state due to downed trees and other hazards, including Route 7 in New Haven and Route 17 in Starksboro.

The so-called “Bomb Cyclone” blanketed the Great Lakes with snow and caused freezing temperatures across much of the country.

According to Mari McClure, president and CEO of Green Mountain Power, the utility had tripled the number of lineworkers available in preparation for the storm, prepositioning crews across the state to respond to outages.

The rain and water vapor in the air over Addison County Friday morning resulted in this rainbow.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

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