SARANAC LAKE - States of emergency are in effect in Essex and Franklin counties in the wake of a pre-Christmas winter storm that left the Tri-Lakes area covered in a coat of ice.
The storm began with heavy rain that drenched the area throughout the day Saturday. As the mercury dropped below freezing Saturday night, the precipitation changed over to sleet and freezing rain.
When local residents woke up this morning, a quarter- to a half-inch of ice covered roads, sidewalks, trees, cars and anything else outside.
Vinnie Pelletieri spreads salt on the ice-covered sidewalk in front of the Saranac Lake Veterans Memorial Association Sunday morning.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"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," Vinnie Pelletieri said 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."
Essex and Franklin counties declared states of emergency Saturday afternoon. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also declared a winter ice storm emergency for the North Country and activated the state's Emergency Operations Center.
Local firefighters and utility crews have been dealing with numerous reports of ice-laden trees falling into roads or toppling onto power lines.
"We've been doing pretty much straight out all day," said Lake Placid Fire Driver Greg Hayes, who said his department has been handling calls from the storm since 2:40 a.m. this morning.
The heavy rains brought by the storm have led to flooding along the West Branch of the AuSable River in Lake Placid, Hayes said.
"We're evacuating some people from River Road," he 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."
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.
Those who did venture outside this morning 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."
There were no reports of major power outages 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.
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. "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 have so far 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 as of 12:30 p.m., 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 have also answered multiple reports of trees or tree branches falling onto power lines this morning, including on Kimpton Road, Circle Street and McClelland Avenue, according to Head Fire Driver Rick Yorkey. The Paul Smiths-Gabriels Volunteer Fire Department also had three or four similar calls, plus a chimney fire on Beech Hill Road, Yorkey said.
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. A state police spokesman said motorists who plan to travel today should visit 511ny.org for the latest road conditions across the state.
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 had been on the job since early this 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."
Compared to what's happening around the region, the Tri-Lakes got away from this storm relatively unscathed. Thousands of people around the North Country are without power today, primarily in St. Lawrence, Jefferson and northern Franklin counties.
"Malone got socked hard," said Dora, who lives in Malone. "I woke up yesterday 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 yesterday 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, is in effect until 7 p.m. tonight.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.