The rain that limited the snowfall in Tuesday’s blizzard left behind craters of “mashed potato” ice that complicated New Haven’s efforts to dig out Wednesday.
Mother Nature cut New Haven a break in the blizzard. The storm moved westward Tuesday, shifting the brunt to other parts of the region with 20 inches of snow. And warmer-than-expected temperatures turned New Haven’s snow to rain mid-day. So the city ended up having no more than 10 inches to clear off the roads.
But that rain seeped into snow to create “mashed potato” mounds throughout town, in the words of city emergency management chief Rick Fontana. As soon as temperatures froze, those mounds froze, too. And got really heavy.
“The ‘mashed potato’ gets hard and crusty and ices up. The trucks don’t like it. Every street in the city has it,” Fontana said.
That slowed down the plows that crews continued to drive throughout the night into the morning. A couple of trucks broke down. Three of the parks department’s Toro sidewalk machines jammed and needed repairs as well. Thanks to a largely successful parking ban — which remains in effect —narrow streets that were impassable in the last storm were cleared. But the mashed-potato mounds left some other side streets impassable, especially in Newhallville.
Public works crews will continued to work 16-hour shifts through Wednesday into Thursday to continue clearing the roads. Until Thursday at 6 a.m., the city banned parking on all downtown streets and emergency routes and on the odd side of residential neighborhood streets.
“The snow is frozen. It’s hard. It’s not easy to move,” public works chief Jeff Pescosolido said at a Wednesday morning brief inside the city’s emergency operations center (EOC) in the basement of the 200 Orange St. municipal building. “We’re going to recover from this. We have some work to do.”
Officials were keeping in touch with alders to update a list of clogged neighborhood streets.
Crews tagged and towed 140 cars overnight, largely downtown, on top of the 93 tagged and towed on largely narrow residential streets the night before, reported transit chief Doug Hausladen.
Two hundred eighty-three people made use of around-the-clock hours at homeless shelters and warming centers.
At noon Wednesday, Newhallville Alder Delphine Clyburn started receiving calls about the city towing cars from Lincoln-Bassett School’s parking lot. Residents were allowed to park at school lots until then to stay off the street. But then the city ordered people to move their cars in order to clear the lots for the reopening of school Thursday morning.
Because of the confusion that ensued, the city agreed not to charge people the $177 for the tickets and towing.
Schools operations chief Will Clark said his crews helped people dig out their cars when the noon deadline arrived. Transit chief Doug Hausladen said that nine cars ended up being towed as of 5 p.m. After an outcry from alders, the city made the call to waive the fees.
The city communicated with citizens about the need to move cars from the school lots through the “Everbridge” system, through which people sign up to receive text messages and phone calls about emergency information. City emergency management chief Rick Fontana said Wednesday’s confusion demonstrated the need for more people to sign up. Still, he said, the city now has over 32,000 people on the system getting the information.
Next time around the city should continue finding ways to communicate better about evolving rules during storms, Mayor Toni Harp said at a 4 p.m. storm briefing at the Emergency Operations Center at 200 Orange St. She recommended using sound trucks in some neighborhoods to reinforce messages going out through Everbridge and through alders’ constituent email networks.
Following are earlier versions of the Independent’s ongoing storm coverage:
Now Comes The Cleanup
With the brunt of a March snowstorm behind them, New Haven officials lifted a travel ban but kept a parking ban in place to ease the work ahead of clearing city streets.
New Haven was relatively lucky: A late westward shift in the storm and a lift in temperatures above freezing kept snowfall to about 10 inches in the city Tuesday, half of what some other communities received.
By mid-day snow turned to rain and sleet. That made the snow heavier to push and portended icy conditions once the temperature falls below freezing Tuesday night.
The travel ban, both in the city and statewide, was officially lifted at 5 p.m. City Hall is scheduled to reopen to the public Wednesday morning.
“We’re still asking people to stay off the roads” if possible, city emergency services chief Rick Fontana said.
And to keep their cars parked off the road, as well. The city parking ban remains in effect indefinitely to give city crews room to clear the snow. Parking is prohibited on both sides of all downtown streets and emergency routes. In residential neighborhoods, parking is prohibited on the odd side of the street. Public school parking lots and city garages remain open and available to parkers. Mayor Toni Harp has also called on people to make room in their driveways for neighbors who don’t have them. Car owners defying the ban risk having their vehicles tagged and towed overnight, at a cost of $177; the city tagged and towed 93 cars late Monday night into early Tuesday morning.
The city sent extra plows to Westville Tuesday after a public works truck broke down on McKinley Avenue. The public works department has over 60 trucks on the road tackling the snow.
The smaller-than-expected snowfall means less snow to plow — but all that rain mixed in makes part of the job harder, according to public works chief Jeff Pescosolido.
“You’ve got the extra weight that we’re up against,” he said. The larger trucks have no problem pushing that kind of snow.” Smaller trucks, on the other hand, have more difficulty on narrower side streets.
Mid-day Tuesday, the snow caused a brief problem for Goffe Street fire station’s Engine 6 at the scene of a medical call on Catherine Way in West Rock: The truck temporarily got stuck, causing a real wheel to spin — and two links from a chain around the tire to break. The crew made it back to the station, where Firefighter Kevin Seidlarz (pictured) repaired the chain just in time ...
... to respond to a call of a woman fainting at Dux Market at Chapel and Kensington streets. The crew found the woman — a familiar face from previous calls — standing outside the store, seemingly disoriented.
“Please help me!” she implored the firefighters.
“I got you! I got you!” Lt. Kendall Richardson reassured her. “We’re going to bring you to the hospital.”
An ambulance arrived. After helping the woman inside, the crew returned to Engine 6 to head back to the station.
Along the way they found a driver stuck in a Nissan in heavy snow piled at the intersection of Elm and Orchard streets. The firefighters hopped out, pushed her through, then returned to the truck. With drivers returning to the streets in greater numbers after 5 p.m. — and then with streets freezing overnight — the firefighters will likely be called to help many more drivers.
Following are earlier versions of this story:
Blizzard Shifts Course; 93 Tagged & Towed
New Haven’s storm clean-up crew caught two breaks Tuesday. New Haveners overwhelmingly heeded a call to keep themselves and their cars off the street. And Mother Nature may have spared the city much of the expected snowfall by turning up the heat and shifting the winds.
The city looked like a ghost town as the expected blizzard kicked into gear around 9 a.m., with high winds and heavy snow. The city had declared a travel ban along with banned parking on any downtown street or emergency route and on the odd sides of residential streets.
“People are listening,” reported city transit chief Doug Hausladen.
Overnight his crew tagged and towed 93 cars parked in defiance of the ban, many of them on narrow East Rock and Fair Haven and Hill streets that proved difficult to plow in the last storm, Hausladen said. Overall, he and city Building Official Jim Turcio saw “record compliance” with the ban during a morning tour of the city. Grand Avenue, for instance, was clear for the plows all the way through.
“Essential” workers like psychiatrist Robert Beech still needed to get to the job. Beech pulled out cross-country skis to commute from Westville down Edgewood Avenue to Connecticut Mental Health Center.
“I tried it in the last snowstorm, but my boots fell apart,” he said while en route. This time he was prepared with sturdy boots.
Inside the Emergency Operations Center in the basement of the 200 Orange St. municipal office building, focused work mixed with a palpable sense of relief at the change in weather conditions.
The storm moved westward from its original path, and temperatures now appear to be headed above freezing for the bulk of the day instead of remaining in the 20s.
That means snow will turn to rain for much of the afternoon, with accumulations more like eight to ten than 12-18 inches, said emergency management chief Rick Fontana. And winds are now expected to be around 20 miles per hour at the storm’s peak, with gusts maybe hitting 40, but not the originally forecast 30-plus winds with 60 mile-per-hour gusts.
So public works crews will have less snow to clear, although the heavier snow (mixed with rain) and then overnight ice may threaten more power outages, he predicted. And people will need to beware black ice once the temperatures sink below freezing at nightfall.
Weather conditions can continue to change and confound forecasts, Fontana noted, so the city is continuing with its full plan for the blizzard.
Sgt. David Guliuzza, a police EOC liaison, credited the parking ban’s success to officials’ stepped-up efforts to inform people — as well as to the experience of car owners who flooded the police department with complaints during the last storm after learning they needed to pay $177 to retrieve their towed cars.
Officials were still gearing up for emergency work during what could still be blizzard-like conditions through the night, and freezing cold and treacherous road conditions overnight into Wednesday.
An earlier version of this article follows:
Travel & Parking Bans Declared For Blizzard
Mayor Toni Harp called on New Haveners to pitch in as she declared a citywide travel ban and parking ban to prepare for a projected 12-18 inches of snow and 30-35 mile-per-hour winds.
The snow is expected to begin falling at 4 a.m. Tuesday and pick up to a pace of three to four inches per hour around 9 a.m., city emergency operations chief Rick Fontana said at a pre-storm meeting held at the Emergency Operations Center in the basement of the 200 Orange St. municipal office building. He said wind gusts could reach as high as 60 miles per hour, creating “crippling” conditions for the city, before the storm calms down in the evening.
So the city has taken the unusual step of declaring a travel ban beginning at 7 a.m. Tuesday. That means other than emergency workers, people are supposed to stay home. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy subsequently issued a statewide travel ban.
And New Haveners need to remove cars from the streets. A parking ban takes effect at midnight. It covers both sides of the street downtown and along emergency routes. In neighborhoods, it covers the odd side of residential streets. That means you can park legally only on the even side of the street there. The city plans to begin tagging and towing cars overnight if they remain parked in defiance of the ban.
People can move their cars to public school parking lots beginning late Monday afternoon. They can also park in any city garages for $3 beginning 6 p.m. pending the close of the storm.
Mayor Harp appealed to people to share their driveways with neighbors who have no other spots for their cars. While city crews will work around the clock, they alone can’t do the whole job of ensuring that narrow streets get plowed and emergency lanes remain open along New Haven’s 321 miles of roads, she said. She also asked alders to go door-to-door Monday on narrow streets to remind people of the ban. City workers plan to drive on some streets with bullhorns to reinforce the message.
“We have got to be neighbors and work together so we can all be safe,” Harp said.
In the last major storm, the public works crews reported high overall compliance with the parking ban. But they were unable to clear some narrow streets in the Hill, East Rock, Fair Haven, and Dixwell because of illegally parked cars.
Harp said she contacted Yale in advance of this storm to help get out the word about the ban to its community this time, especially in East Rock, where university-affiliated car owners were apparently responsible for some of the unpassable narrow streets.
Maria Bouffard, Yale’s director of emergency management, reported that the university is advising community members to sign up with the city’s emergency-notification system. It has also made its Pierson-Sage Garage on Whitney Avenue available to people in order to get their cars off the streets. She noted that Yale has spring break this week. So most undergraduates have left town, along with many graduate students.
Tweed-New Haven Airport has canceled flights for Tuesday. Warming centers will open at Bethel AME Church on Goffe Street at 10 p.m. Tuesday as well as at a second new location, Trinity Church at 630 State St.
The public libraries will be closed on Tuesday, as will the public schools.
The public works department received a delivery of 500 tons of salt to begin applying to streets Tuesday morning, according to Director Jeff Pescosolido. His crews have already started applying a brine solution to roads in advance of the storm.
Trash collectors — who double as snow plowers — will begin the Tuesday pick-up early, at 11 p.m. Monday, to be available for Tuesday road-clearing duty.
Meanwhile, city homeless outreach workers and cops fanned out to locations in town where people sleep outside, urging people to come to shelters or warming centers.
“We don’t want this to be a deadly storm,” Fontana said. “But we know it can be.”