Wind storm hits Tri-Lakes region

High-speed winds knock down trees, power goes out for thousands

A massive spruce tree fell on the home of Ken Pickreign outside of Saranac Lake on Wednesday. The tree, pictured here Thursday, poked a hole through Pickreign’s roof. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

High winds ushered in a cold front and a snow storm on Wednesday, causing a 50-degree swing over the course of a couple of hours and knocking down trees around the Tri-Lakes. Hundreds lost power and one home was seriously damaged by a tree.

Marvin Boyd, a lead meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vermont, said wind gusts measured in Saranac Lake hit a high of 49 miles per hour.

“While the speed itself was pretty high, what was more remarkable was the duration of those winds,” Boyd said.

The wind started at around 6 p.m. and lasted until around midnight. Boyd said the warmth earlier this week partially melted soil and weakened the root structures of trees. So when the strong winds came, the trees were easier to knock over and cause power outages.

A massive spruce tree fell on the home of Ken Pickreign outside of Saranac Lake on Wednesday. The tree poked a hole through Pickreign’s roof, seen here Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

Tree hits home

Ken Pickreign was sitting in his easy chair at about 9 p.m. Wednesday when suddenly a tree limb bashed through his living room ceiling as a massive spruce hemlock crashed down on his home outside Saranac Lake.

“It sounded like a bomb going off or an airplane hit my house,” Pickreign said.

He had been sitting less than 10 feet away from where the branch poked through the roof. His cat, Buddy, ran and hid for about five hours. The weight of the tree shifted the home slightly off its foundation.

A massive spruce tree fell on the home of Ken Pickreign outside of Saranac Lake on Wednesday. The tree, pictured here Thursday, poked a hole through Pickreign’s roof. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

The giant tree trunk was still leaning against his home on Thursday, and a branch was poking all the way into his living room. The sky could be seen through the hole in the ceiling.

Pickreign never expected that tree to fall.

“It’s older than I am,” he said.

Pickreign said he didn’t sleep on Wednesday night, but otherwise, he’s fine. He was told he’ll have 100% insurance coverage for the damage and repairs.

“Eighty-five years old and this is the first claim I’ve ever made in my life,” Pickreign said. He’s glad he sprang for the “best insurance” years ago.


National Grid spokesman Jared Paventi said around 12,000 customers were affected in Franklin County and Essed County. Around 10,000 of these were restored as of 6:30 p.m. Thursday with the majority of the 1,700 unrestored in Schroon Lake. Paventi said National Grid is planning a dry ice delivery there. He said Franklin County outages are estimated to be restored by 11:30 p.m. Thursday and Essex County by 11:30 p.m. Friday.

Saranac Lake had a total of 62 National Grid customers affected. As of 6:30 p.m. Thursday, four were still without power.

Bloomingdale saw a large outage on Wednesday night that lasted for under three hours, starting at around 9:30 p.m. Paventi said an equipment failure at the Lake Colby substation tripped a circuit breaker, affecting around 850 customers. This outage lasted for 2 hours and 49 minutes. It was fixed when workers replaced a regulator, Paventi said.

National Grid put around 75 crews in the Saranac Lake area, Paventi said. With each crew consisting of one to three people, there were well over 100 National Grid line workers here for the storm, working on trees and wire damage.

Lake Placid Electric Superintendent Kimball Daby said he had three crews of two workers out through Wednesday evening. One outage on the Adirondack Loj Road affected 20 customers for an hour and another outage on Taylor Way affected two customers for an hour. One outage on Church Street early Thursday morning affected 30 customers for around two hours, Daby said.

“It was not as busy as the crews thought it was going to be,” he said.

There were also 10 incidents of trees on the lines which did not take the power out.

“It contributed to our tree trimming,” Daby said. “We’ve been quite aggressive with it.”

He said his department has made an effort to trim trees near lines in the past five years — with a major push coming last year before the FISU World University Games — and that contributed to Lake Placid only having a few outages.

Tupper Lake Electric Superintendent Mike Dominie said his department had one small outage on North Littlewolf for around two hours on Wednesday night. Otherwise, they were working on cleaning up trees on secondary service equipment.

Trees tear down wires

Saranac Lake and Lake Placid saw the bulk of the trees and wires down calls for the fire departments in the Tri-Lakes.

The Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department dealt with “a lot of trees, a lot of trees and a lot of trees,” Fire Chief Mike St. Louis said.

“I’d never seen the wind blow that much in a while,” he said.

The LPVFD responded to four calls where they moved fallen trees out of the way. Another three calls the fire department couldn’t respond to, St. Louis said, as the trees were very large and had fallen directly on power lines. In that instance, it’s up to the the town of North Elba’s Highway Department to clear the trees.

Lake Placid firefighters responded to a fallen tree call in which the tree had fallen onto a house on Mill Pond Drive. Fortunately, the tree was old and only fell about five feet, so it didn’t have time to gather momentum, St. Louis said. The house was not punctured by the tree, but it did fall onto the power line that fed the house.

Firefighters and the Lake Placid Electric Department worked to clear the tree.

“Those guys don’t get paid enough to work on power lines when the wind’s blowing,” St. Louis said.

Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department Head Driver Rick Yorkey said the tree down calls started coming in in earnest when the wind kicked up at 5:45 p.m. At this time, the department had 16 members and four trucks out on a variety of calls.

Firefighters in Saranac Lake had a break after midnight and resumed Thursday morning at around 5:30 a.m. as people hit the roads again and found downed trees and lines.

In all, the SLVFD had 13 calls for trees down, either blocking roads or knocking down power and telephone lines, between 5:45 p.m. Wednesday and 11 a.m. Thursday.

Downed trees blocked Margaret Street; county Route 18, Forest Home Road; Kiwassa Lake Road and Shepard Avenue.

Twice, trees which hit power lines started burning on Forest Home Road.

Houses on Lake Street and state Route 86 were hit by trees. A home on View Street had its power lines ripped off by a tree. Power lines were knocked down onto a car on Edwards Street. There was no one in the vehicle.

Wires blocked a woman from exiting her house on Ray Brook Road and firefighters helped her get out the back door.

On Pontiac Street, a tree hit power lines and broke a pole, causing the lines to arc. Yorkey said this is supposed to trigger a power cutoff, but sometimes that doesn’t happen, causing the transformer to blow. The transformer blew, causing a power outage for people in that neighborhood and making a loud bang.

“When they blow it sounds like a shotgun going off,” Yorkey said.

Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Department Chief Michael Woodruff said his department wasn’t as busy as some others in the area, but they had nine tree calls throughout Wednesday night and Thursday. He said the department had two trucks and eight members out.

Woodruff said the worst of it came at 5:50 a.m. Thursday with a messy blowdown on Rock Street knocking down power lines.

Woodruff said they also responded to a car crash in a 10-foot deep drainage ditch on Alder Brook Park Road. The car’s airbags deployed and firefighters couldn’t find the driver or occupants when they arrived. He said New York State Police took the vehicle and the search for its owner.

This crash might have been storm-related but Woodruff said he was not 100% sure. This crash was initially reported as being in a pond, but the car was just near the pond, he said.

Paul Smiths-Gabriels Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tom Tucker said his department had five calls for trees and wires down on Wednesday night after 6 p.m. and one Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m.

Tucker said there weren’t vehicles hit by the trees.

“Just pain in the butt calls,” he said.

He said the department had 16 members and two trucks active on average through the night.

Jay Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jamie Coolidge said everyone around them got hit more than they did and his members assisted the AuSable Forks Volunteer Fire Department, which had a busy night.

The Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department only had one tree down call during the storm, a tree blocking half the road on Haymeadow Road and Sugar Maple Lane at around 6 p.m.


Between 6 p.m. to midnight Wednesday, temperatures plummeted as a cold front moved in.

NWS data for Saranac Lake shows the temperature at a record-breaking 57 degrees at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, which dropped to only 6 degrees by 4 a.m. on Thursday.

“We really pay for the warmth here in this time of year,” Boyd said. “If you’re getting up in the 50s in Saranac Lake in the end of February, you’re probably going to get some wind coming through.”

The unseasonably warm weather invites in these weird weather patterns, he said.

“To get that much warmth this far north, you have to get a very amplified weather pattern,” Boyd said.

Both Wednesday and Thursday set high temperature records for Feb. 27 and 28 in Saranac Lake.

Wednesday’s hours of 60-degree temperatures broke the previous 59-degree record which was set in 2000, and Thursday’s high of 58 eclipsed the previous “long-standing warm anomaly record” of 55, which was set in 1955, Boyd said.

Boyd said Saranac Lake is on track to break the record for warmest winter since records started being kept here in 1903. This won’t be official, though, until February ends. He said the high overnight temperatures this winter contributed a lot to this potential record warmth.

According to Boyd, a very cloudy January worked like a blanket, holding the warmth on the ground through the night. Usually January has cold, crisp and clear days, but there were very few this year. And there wasn’t a lot of snow either.

Boyd said meteorologists had to change their forecast models to account for the lack of snow cover.

He said the region should see a warming trend over the next week, but much slower with a building high pressure. Heading into March, the sun angle is getting higher, he added, so opportunities for bitter cold outbreaks are diminishing.

(Enterprise Staff Writer Sydney Emerson contributed reporting.)


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