Day of ice

A pre-Christmas winter storm left the North Country covered in a coat of ice Sunday, but the Tri-Lakes area was largely spared from any severe storm-related damage or significant power outages.

The storm began with heavy rain that drenched the area throughout Saturday. As the mercury dropped below freezing Saturday night, the precipitation changed over to sleet and freezing rain.

When local residents woke up Sunday morning, a quarter- to a half-inch of ice covered roads, sidewalks, trees, cars and anything else outside.

“I woke up and I couldn’t see outside my bedroom window because it was completely iced over,” said Adam Martinez, who lives in the Lake Flower Apartments high-rise on Kiwassa Road in Saranac Lake. He spoke with the Enterprise as he tried to shovel the ice-coated steps outside Bear Essentials on Main Street, where he works. “The walk to work would normally take five minutes. Today it took 15. I mostly walked on the roads this morning because those have actually been done.”

“It’s dangerous,” said Vinnie Pelletieri as he put salt down on the sidewalk outside the Saranac Lake Veterans Memorial Association on Broadway. “Just walking through the parking lots, I mean, you gotta be careful. I don’t think some old people should be out, cause you could easily fall down and break your hip. It’s a good day to stay inside.”

Those who did venture outside found their cars encased in ice. Carter Cruikshank spoke with the Enterprise as she used an ice scraper to chisel away at her car, parked across the street from the Harrietstown Town Hall in Saranac Lake.

“It’s not as bad, obviously, as years before,” Cruikshank said, referencing the 1998 ice storm, “but I haven’t seen anything like this in a while.”

After several minutes of scraping, Cruikshank managed to clear the ice from her trunk. Inside was the suitcase of her friend, Olivia Glans, who had just returned home for the holidays from college.

“I just got back from North Carolina, and this is what I come home to?” Glans said with a laugh. “Of course, the Adirondacks never fails me.”

Emergency calls

States of emergency were declared in Essex and Franklin counties Saturday afternoon. Gov. Andrew Cuomo also declared a winter ice storm emergency for the North Country and activated the state’s Emergency Operations Center.

The heavy rains brought by the storm led to flooding. Twelve families had to be evacuated near Jay due to ice jams flooding the East Branch of the AuSable River, according to the American Red Cross of Northeastern New York, which said it is mobilizing resources and supplies to help people affected by the storm.

The AuSable’s West Branch also flooded, in Lake Placid.

“We’re evacuating some people from River Road,” Lake Placid Fire Driver Greg Hayes said around 11:30 a.m. “There’s flash flooding going on down there. It’s been rising about 3 or 4 feet in the last hour. It’s come up big time.”

The fire department ended up evacuating just one woman, along with her two dogs, from 509 River Road starting at about 11 a.m. as a safety precaution. There was about 2-and-a-half feet of water at her house, firefighter Matt Colby told the Enterprise this morning.

“It’s a place that floods all the time,” Colby said. “It’s not the first time we’ve gone in to get her.”

Local firefighters and utility crews also dealt with numerous reports of ice-laden trees falling into roads or toppling onto power lines.

“We’ve been going pretty much straight out all day,” Hayes said Sunday.

His department had been handling calls from the storm since 2:40 a.m. Sunday morning.

They started with trees burning on power lines on Bear Cub Lane, then a transformer fire at 164 Deerwood Trail. After that, they had an hour-long break from 4 to 5 a.m. When they sent four trucks and 15 members to the Comfort Inn at 2125 Saranac Ave., where a hotel guest had fallen asleep while cooking with a microwave. Guest rooms and the pool area was full of smoke, so firefighters spent the next two-and-a-half hours using exhaust fans to clear the area of smoke. An hour later, they were back securing the scene of another tree on power lines, this time at Victor Herbert Road, then dealing with lines down at 40 Station St.

As one team was evacuating the River Road home, firefighters also responded to a power pole fire at 40 Signal Hill, and at 12:24, they sent two trucks and 15 members to the NBT Bank parking lot on Main Street, where a car had slid down the hill and crashed into another parked car. No one was injured.

Motorists were advised to avoid unnecessary travel. Most people seemed to heed that advice; state and local police and the area’s fire departments reported very few accidents or cars off the road. In Lake Placid, state police said a fire truck collided with a parked car on Saranac Avenue near the Comfort Inn. No injuries were reported, and there was no immediate word on the extent of the damage to either vehicle.

A few power outages

Roughly 1,200 New York State Electric and Gas customers in Wilmington, Jay and Keene still had no power this morning, according to the company’s online outage map.

There were no reports of major power outages among National Grid customers in the Tri-Lakes. A power outage map on the National Grid website showed roughly 80 customers were without service in the Lake Clear, Saranac Inn and Paul Smiths area, and a handful in the Tupper Lake area, as of 12:30 p.m. Sunday. This morning, the same map showed only three outages in the Tri-Lakes, two in the Saranac Lake area and one in Paul Smiths, affecting roughly 45 customers.

Mike Poirier, who works for the Tupper Lake Municipal Electric Department, said there were a few isolated power outages in his community.

“Nothing major,” he said around midday Sunday. “Just branches falling down and taking power lines down. We’ve got about a quarter-inch of ice here. It’s all been minor stuff. Nothing major so far.”

Poirier said electric department crews removed downed trees on North Little Wolf Road (twice), Pine Street, River Road, Larkin Avenue, John Street and state Route 30.

The Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department responded to three storm-related calls, according to its Facebook page. Firefighters went to a report of power lines down on north Little Wolf Road at 11:04 a.m., a report of wires down on state Route 30 in the Fish Creek area at 9:47 a.m., and low-hanging wires at 1624 state Route 30 at 7:10 a.m.

Saranac Lake firefighters answered multiple reports of trees or tree branches falling onto power lines, including on Kimpton Road, Circle Street and McClelland Avenue, according to Head Fire Driver Rick Yorkey.

Clearing roads

The Paul Smiths-Gabriels Volunteer Fire Department responded to 10 storm-related calls in the town of Brighton between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, including trees blocking roads and trees on power lines, along with a chimney fire on Beech Hill Road, the department said in a statement. At one point, the department said its firefighters became trapped by downed utility lines on a private road.

Ray Brook-based state police had received reports of trees across the road in several locations around the Tri-Lakes: three on McKenzie Pond Road, three in the Lake Clear area, one in Saranac Inn and two in Lake Placid.

Municipal snowplow crews were busy all day trying to sand and clear the roads and sidewalks. Saranac Lake Department of Pubic Works Superintendent Jeff Dora said his crews were on the job early Sunday morning.

“They started about 1 a.m. dealing with the ice, snow, sleet, rain and everything else,” Dora said. “They were hoping to have everything buttoned up by 2 p.m. One of our sidewalk plows went down Friday, so we’ve been running the whole weekend with one.”

Worse elsewhere

Compared to what’s happening around the region, the Tri-Lakes got away from this storm relatively unscathed. As of this morning, National Grid was reporting 24,000 customers still without power in the North Country, primarily in St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties. NYSEG was still trying to restore service to nearly 2,000 of its customers in the North Country who still didn’t have power as of this morning.

“Malone got socked hard,” said Dora, who lives in Malone. “I woke up (Saturday) morning, and we had easily half an inch of ice on top of my car. That was on top of 5 or 6 inches of snow Friday night. While it was doing nothing but raining (in Saranac Lake), we had nothing but freezing rain all day yesterday.”

“I was down in Plattsburgh (Saturday) morning, and it was just like it is here today,” Pelletieri said. “There were about four cars off the road in Moffitsville, Cadyville, Saranac. It was worse down there. Usually it’s the other way around.”

An ice storm warning issued by the National Weather Service in Burlington expired at 7 p.m. Sunday night.

Staff Writer Jessica Collier contributed to this report.