John Purcell/Recorder staff Winter storm Stella hits downtown Amsterdam Tuesday causing white out conditions.
By JOHN PURCELL
Recorder News Staff
Local communities grappled with Winter Storm Stella on Tuesday as heavy snowfall buried roadways, causing travel bans to go into effect throughout the region.
The National Weather Service reported snow totals for much of Montgomery County nearing two feet as of Tuesday evening, with Fulton County reportedly experiencing a few inches less of total snow accumulation.
Montgomery County and the City of Amsterdam had both declared a state of emergency banning unnecessary travel from 4 p.m. Tuesday until 6 a.m. today. Officials said Tuesday evening roadways were beginning to clear up as snowfall started tapering off and most people adhered to travel ban.
Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said the state of emergency was declared to allow for plows to clear roadways and ensure the safety of residents. He sent non-essential county employees home at noon, so workers could get home before the peak snowfall times.
“There was a point where the roads were real bad and they were having a tough time getting plows and emergency services through,” Ossenfort said. “There was a while there where they just couldn’t keep up with it, it was just too much snow.”
Ossenfort said having motorists stay off the roads allowed municipalities to catch up on clearing out snow.
“We feel good that with the amount of snow we’re getting plus the time to work on it overnight that things will be pretty good by the morning,” Ossenfort said.
While the state of emergency was expected to be lifted this morning in Amsterdam, the snow emergency barring anyone from parking on city streets remains in effect.
Mayor Michael Villa said he would be evaluating the situation with city officials to determine how long the snow emergency parking restrictions would remain in place.
“If it was going to be 60 degrees the rest of the week, we wouldn’t worry about it too much,” Villa said. “It’s going to be cold and they’re calling for a clipper system on Saturday with 2 to 3 more inches of snow. We have to be careful. We have to make sure the streets are safe so fire department vehicles and ambulances can get through. We want to do our due diligence.”
Villa said the state of emergency barring non-essential travel was necessary to ensure the safety of residents and city employees.
Villa said having vehicles unnecessarily on roadways and causing accidents ties up police officers, who also had to navigate their way to the scene in the dangerous conditions. He said conditions were also difficult for city DPW crews to navigate without the added danger of other motorists.
“The last thing we want is a plow to hit a vehicle, because with this wind and continuous snow after dark it gets even worse,” Villa said. “Let’s make the biggest impact we can during the time that no one is on the road, they don’t have to worry about vehicles. It just makes their job a lot easier to do. It makes the police officers lives a lot safer.”
Amsterdam Police Lt. Thomas Nethaway said there was a lot of compliance with the parking ban, but throughout the day, officers were tied up responding to calls of struck or crashed vehicles.
“We are totally tied up with disabled vehicles,” Nethaway said Tuesday. “The amount of snow that’s falling is preventing people from traveling the roads safely, so we’re getting a lot of calls for vehicles.”
Nethaway said police were only operating four-wheel vehicles during the storm and there were officers on overtime to provide adequate staffing.
Nethaway said he believed the state of emergency was necessary, because the snow was “coming down at a rate that’s beyond anybody’s control.”
Amsterdam DPW General Foreman Phil Bracchi around 6:40 p.m. said city crews were catching up with the snowfall and beginning to clear pathways on the side streets. The department focused on main roadways during times of peak snowfall. He believed there was up to 4 inches falling per hour during the most difficult times of the storm.
Bracchi said there were still some cars abandoned in spots throughout the city as of Tuesday evening.
“Unless you had to be out for work, I don’t see any reason why anybody was out,” Bracchi said. “Our guys have been pushing a lot of cars out and helping people, getting our own trucks unstuck. Pushing that kind of snow is tough to move, especially on the hills.”
Bracchi said the Amsterdam Police Department provided a lot of assistance helping get vehicles removed from the street and moved out of the way.
While there were less drivers on the streets after the state of emergency was declared, Bracchi said there were still a few motorists traversing roads a couple hours into the travel ban.
Bracchi hoped to have streets opened up throughout the city by the morning and at least passable. He said plows would likely continue clearing streets throughout today.
“Most of the guys are signed on right through the night,” Bracchi said Tuesday. “They’ll be tired tomorrow, but they’ll get the job done.”
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said there were a lot of cars sliding off the road or sliding into ditches throughout Tuesday. Giardino said there was also some problems with tow trucks not be able to get up certain hills in the county.
Giardino said there was a request to limit non-essential travel Tuesday morning before a state of emergency was declared later in the day.
Giardino said most people were compliant with the request to restrict driving, but the main issue involved people going to work in the morning and then heading home in the afternoon as conditions worsened.
The worst period in Fulton County was between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. due to low visibility from heavy snowfall and windy conditions, according to Giardino.
The city of Gloversville also declared a snow emergency effective 11 p.m. Tuesday until 6 a.m. Thursday. During the snow emergency parking is prohibited on all city streets and residents are asked to avoid any unnecessary travel.
The Gloversville Police Department were monitoring the status of roadways alongside other local, county and state officials to determine if any changes are needed with the emergency declaration.
Gloversville Mayor Dayton King said Gloversville has six plows and each plow is designated an area taking around six hours to clear. He said progress was slower than normal on Tuesday and streets also became snow covered again quickly during peak snowfall.
Gloversville roads were better Tuesday night than earlier in the day, according to King. He said most of the streets should be cleared overnight and if necessary vehicles would be towed from streets.
“We want to encourage people not to drive if they don’t have to. If they need to get out, obviously go,” Gloversville Mayor Dayton King said Tuesday evening.