Latest storm: Sleet and slush for almost 48 hours

  • Mary Hawley of Greenfield wrestles with her umbrella on Main Street in Greenfield during Monday's ice, snow and sleet storm. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • This bird house looks a little chilly in Shelburne on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ice hangs off a pasture gate in Shelburne on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ice coating on everything in the higher elevations around the county as seen here on these old apples in Shelburne. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 12/30/2019 5:40:59 PM
Modified: 12/30/2019 5:40:44 PM

Area roads became a mess of slush and ice thanks to a storm of freezing rain, snow and sleet that started Sunday night, ran almost all day Monday and was forecasted to end by about noon Tuesday.

For local road crews in the North Quabbin area and Franklin County, the conditions required regular maintenance, but did not cause anything extraordinarily dangerous.

“We’ve been pretty lucky,” said Greenfield Public Works Superintendent Marlo Warner, noting that there had been no downed trees or power lines.

Precipitation like this happens when temperatures hover around the threshold of freezing, said Bill Simpson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Norton office.

Snow forms about 5,000 to 10,000 feet in the sky. If it passes through warmer layers as it falls, it melts; then if it passes through a colder layer, it will re-freeze into sleet. The type of precipitation will change as temperatures at higher elevations fluctuate in and out of the freezing range.

“It’s what’s happening aloft that determines it,” Simpson said.

The storm itself is a collision of two storm systems, Simpson said: one coming northwards up the coast from New Jersey, the other coming east from the Great Lakes. Because it’s really two systems, Simpson said, there would probably be a lull Monday afternoon, “a slackening, if you will,” as one system died down; and then the weather would pick up again and re-establish itself as the other system strengthened.

It probably wouldn’t clear up until about noon on Tuesday, Simpson said. He mentioned that roads may be worse than they appear, especially if driving from a lower elevation to a higher elevation.

“Just a trace of freezing rain can be just as bad as a couple inches of snow,” Simpson said. “Sometimes it can be just wet pavement, then you come over the knoll, and it’s freezing rain.”

“Frankly, I’d rather have snow,” said Phillipston Public Works Director Rick Tenney. “Ice can be a problem. A lot depends on ground temperature. You may have treated a road, but if the ground temperatures is colder in one spot than another, it can ice over. You can be out in a truck going pretty slow, but if you hit a patch, your speed an pick up and it’s easy to lose control. When you’re dealing with snow, you have the weight of the plow to help with your traction.”

Tenney said his department started treating roads between 8 p.m. and 10 Sunday night, and continued to monitor from about 1:30 a.m. onwards.

Tenney and Royalston Public Works Supeterintendent Keith Newton expected the storm to be a “supply gobbler.”

“It's hard to put a dollar figure on it,” Newton said Monday morning. “But we've been on top of it. We got everything treated pretty well.”

In Royalston, where the roads are mostly gravel, the roads are treated less thoroughly than in other towns.

“If we put down too much salt of accelerate melting, it turns everything to mud, and that just makes things worse,” said Newton said.

Athol Public Works Director Doug Walsh said Monday morning that his department had not yet seen any major problems, but that he was expecting potential complications later.

“What we’re keeping our eyes on right now is icing on the trees,” Walsh said. “We’re getting reports of icing in Wendell and around Erving. If branches and limbs start coming down, we could get pretty busy.”

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