Last Friday’s intense storm caused havoc for evening commuters as rain, hail and high winds ripped through Shelburne, causing zero-visibility driving conditions. The National Weather Service in Burlington reported high winds in Shelburne between 50 and 60 mph.
As the sun shined Saturday morning, chainsaws were heard running as people cut fallen trees.
It’s been tricky to tell how fast the winds were exactly in Shelburne because there is no monitoring station in Shelburne, weather service meteorologist Andrea LaRocca said. During the thunderstorms that accompanied Friday’s high winds, gusts up to 49 mph were measured in Colchester. Right after the thunderstorms ended, wind gusted to 45 mph at Burlington International Airport, LaRocca said. Across the lake in New York, winds reached 63 mph, she noted.
One meteorologist from the National Weather Service surveyed the damage to trees in Shelburne and blamed straight-line winds, which can gust to over 60 mph, LaRocca said. Despite rumors, there was no indication of a tornado.
“The storm initiated over the Adirondacks. It was two supercells that tracked over Shelburne,” right around 7 p.m. for the initial storm, LaRocca said. More damage may have been caused later that night due to saturated ground and wind from a cold front came after the initial storm.
As the initial thunderstorm hit, first responders were called into action to take care of fallen trees blocking roads and later address downed power lines in multiple locations overnight into Saturday.
Police closed Route 7 from about 7:15 p.m. to 2 a.m. while crews cleared trees from the road.
Police diverted traffic onto Webster Road, Irish Hill, Falls Road and Spear Street, depending on the time of night, because fallen trees blocked those roads as well, Shelburne Police Officer Bob Lake explained.
Power lines were down on Webster Road, Falls Road and Route 7, he added.
“The storm was fairly localized within a quarter mile,” Lake said. “It was a busy Friday night with a steady stream of traffic for about two hours.”
As Shelburne police diverted motorists, volunteers from Shelburne, Charlotte and Hinesburg fire and rescue squads went to work removing debris from roads and powerlines.
In some cases, new damage was happening as responders were headed to sites to help.
For instance, as Rob Mullin, Charlotte Fire and Rescue assistant chief, headed to remove a tree down in front of Shelburne Museum, he and his partner were blocked in front of Vermont Teddy Bear by another tree blocking Route 7.
“We started to cut that tree up. It was raining and the wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t see [my partner] four feet away from me,” Mullin said. “And after we cleared that tree the hail started, and it was raining so hard we couldn’t see anything.”
Ferrisburgh Fire and Rescue covered for Charlotte during the storm, Mullin said. There were no calls in Charlotte. Nine Charlotte volunteers worked in Shelburne until just after 11 p.m. when they were greeted with food by the Charlotte Ladies Auxiliary, Mullin said.
Hinesburg sent one truck to help out in Shelburne at the end of the storm, Fire Chief Al Barber said. Hinesburg also was quiet with no calls from Hinesburg residents because of storm damage, he added.
Away from the roads, the storm caused a different type of tie-up on the railroad tracks. Friday was the first night of Vermont Railway’s new dinner train service between Burlington and Middlebury.
On the train’s return leg back to Burlington, high winds deposited trees across the tracks. Luckily it was test run of the train with all of the guests on board associated with the railroad, explained Selden Houghton, vice president for Vermont Railway. Passengers remained in good spirits during the delay as crews cleared the tracks, he said.
“We were delayed a couple of hours and had to get taxis for some guests to get back to Burlington before the train could get them there,” Houghton said. He was also thankful to staff from Shelburne’s Department of Public Works who loaned the railroad workers a saw.
Green Mountain Power worked to restore power to approximately 52,000 customers in the region over the weekend. Of those customers, 3,272 were in Charlotte, Hinesburg and Shelburne, said Kristin Kelly, the spokesperson for Green Mountain Power.
Vermont Electric Cooperative was also still at work into Sunday to restore the last 1,000 customers to service. A company news release said outages knocked out power to nearly 19,000 customers or half of its membership.
Shelburne Museum was closed Saturday to clean up debris and damage on its grounds. No buildings were significantly damaged, a groundsman confirmed.
In his first weekend on the job as Interim Town Manager, Lee Krohn surveyed the damage on Saturday. He remarked that he was thankful to see many trees falling away from homes rather than on them.
Tree triage in Shelburne
The widespread damage to trees ironically happened on the eve of Shelburne’s Arbor Day celebration. On Saturday afternoon, members of the Shelburne Tree Advisory Committee gathered to mark the occasion by planting five Korean maples on Falls Road. They also talked about the devastating effects of the storm the night before.
Ensuring trees are healthy is part of the tree committee’s job as it worked to have Shelburne designated as a Tree City USA town. It’s the seventh in the state to get the recognition.
“Which means we really care about trees,” Gail Henderson-King, chair of the tree advisory committee, said at Saturday’s Arbor Day celebration.
Last week, the committee was in Montpelier for the Vermont Arbor Day Conference where Shelburne was among seven Vermont communities to be awarded the Tree City USA designation. To earn the honor and receive special signs to post, municipalities must meet a variety of criteria. Among the requirements are having a board committed to trees and tree issues such as Shelburne’s Tree Advisory Committee; having a tree care ordinance, an Arbor Day celebration and proclamation, and the town must spend the equivalent of $2 per capita – about $15,500 for Shelburne. Shelburne actually spends about $3 per capita, budgeting $23,500 for tree maintenace this year, Henderson said.
On Saturday, Selecrboard Chair Jerry Storey read the proclamation. Committee members then replanted the Korean Maples from the village Veterans Memorial to the side of Falls Road where the trees will have more room to grow.
Rep. Jessica Brumsted D-Shelburne helped plant the trees. “It’s amazing with the perfect timing of the storm last night, as we lost trees. It’s exciting today that we are planting new trees,” she said.
During the event, tree committee member Tod Warner remarked on the benefits of planting trees in public spaces, especially near busy streets. Trees planted along roads help to “calm traffic,” Warner said, which could only help curb the notorious speeding on Falls Road.
Tree Warden David Hall quipped that the trees helped slow traffic the previous night during the storm, “because they were throwing branches at the road.”
Looking ahead, committee members said they will continue doing outreach to help advise people about how to maintain healthy trees that can survive future storms.
“The irony of last night is that the storm showed how important stewardship of trees is. Dead trees fall,” committee member Hope Johnson said.
The committee said its next events will include an oldest-tree-in-Shelburne contest and tree-related workshops.