‘You really can’t keep up’: Danbury area works to clear roads as heavy snow falls

Photo of Dan Brechlin

Officials warned of hazardous driving conditions as the first major snowstorm of 2021 in Connecticut is expected to shut down the region over the course of a few days.

Sixteen to 24 inches of snow is expected to fall on the Danbury area beginning Monday and carrying over into Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. High winds could create additional trouble as Eversource has said it is preparing for the possibility of power outages in the coming days. There are few outages statewide as of around 12:30 p.m.

A total of 10 to 14 inches of snow was expected during the daytime hours Monday, according to the NWS with “blustery” conditions and winds in the 17 to 22 mph range, and gusts reaching 36 mph.

Lighter, drier snow is expected in the western part of the state, including in Danbury, Gov. Ned Lamont said during a press conference Monday morning.

“If you did venture out this morning, head home now,” he said. “Head home while still you can.”

Danbury is under level 2 snow emergency, meaning there is a parking ban and residents are urged to limit travel. Mayor Joe Cavo encouraged business owners to let their non-essential employees work from home.

“This storm has the potential to produce very dangerous driving conditions in Danbury,” he wrote in an alert to the community. “Please take the necessary precautions and stay safe.”

Most residents seemed to listen.

“The traffic out in the outlying areas seems to be quieter,” Cavo said as he drove home from City Hall around 12:40 p.m. “Downtown, it was a little busier, but overall people are heeding the message.”

The snow is expected to continue Monday night with 17 to 24 mph winds continuing, in addition to gusts around 39 mph. Overnight about 2 to 4 additional inches of snow are expected, the NWS reports. There are expected to be periods where about 2 to 4 inches of snow are falling per hour.

Gov. Ned Lamont issued a ban on all tractor trailers traveling on Interstate 84 beginning Monday and continuing until further notice due to hazardous conditions.

Crews working ‘around the clock’

Plow crews in throughout the Danbury area continue to clear snow from the roads Monday afternoon as the area braces for heavier bands of snow and higher wind speeds.

“Storm response is going well,” Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker said. “The highway crews have made several passes on all roads, beginning before dawn this morning. All roadways are passable, but conditions are slippery and we advise people to stay home except for emergencies.”

Redding public works crews began preparing for the snow storm late Sunday night and have continued working through the day, Public Works Director Jeff Hanson said. Hanson anticipates the department will continue working through the night.

“There’s no way we can keep up with the snow coming down. When it’s snowing this hard, you really can’t keep up with it,” Hanson said.

Despite the heavy snowfall, crews continue to plow the roads, but by the time they finish one street, it’s already almost covered in snow again, Hanson said. The department deployed its 11 employees to hit the streets with plows and an additional five contractors are assisting their efforts.

Hanson said people are “being smart,” and staying off the roads. The only people he has seen driving around are those with plows, “which is how it should be,” Hanson said.

In Newtown, town offices and school buildings were closed on Monday to keep roads clear vehicles an allow road crews to tackle the storm.

Town employees were told to work from home, and town leaders asked residents who could work from home to do so.

In Newtown at noontime, public works trucks were out in force and residents were at home with power as heavy snow continued to blanket the region.

“We are checking in with our DPW crews which are out keeping the roads clear, but we’d like to keep people off the roads as much as possible so crews can do their work,” Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said.

While they have not added to their plow crews, Bass said their staffing is well-maintained, and that they’ve been preparing for the storm since Friday.

New Milford issued a parking ban, with a winter storm warning in effect until 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“Please make sure that you give yourself plenty of time if you have to travel today,” Bass wrote. “Please make sure that you have given yourself plenty of distance between your vehicle and the plow truck as our plows are out plowing the town roads.”

New Milford Mayor Pete Bass said there were a few minor accidents, but conditions are otherwise “so far, so good.” He is holding another Emergency Operation Command meeting at 3:30pm.

Other town leaders reported no major crashes or incidents.

“So far, our snow removal efforts are going well,” New Fairfield First Selectwoman Pat Del Monaco said early Monday afternoon.

Brookfield has crews working to clear, salt and sand the roads in regular eight to 10 hour shifts, and Dunn said the town lined up back-up workers in case COVID diagnoses left crews with fewer people available to work.

“We’re in very, very good shape that way,” Dunn said.

Brookfield Town Hall will be closed Monday with employees working from home, he said. However, with roughly half of regular employees already working from home due to the pandemic, the change should not disrupt normal functioning, he said.

In Sherman, public works crews are ready to “work around the clock,” if necessary, First Selectman Don Lowe said.

“So far they have been clearing and sanding roads, doing an excellent job,” he said Monday afternoon. “We have had no emergencies yet.”

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said residents have generally been “playing it safe” during the storm and staying in, which has allowed the public works department to keep clearing roads and streets. With no power outages reported so far, Marconi said he hopes it continues to be a quiet snow day.

Crews in Danbury are keeping at least a lane open on roads and will eventually—likely Tuesday— push the snow back further to the curb, Cavo said.

The city has 38 big plow trucks, some smaller dump trucks, about 10 plows from the parks department and two plows from the fire department clearing roads, Cavo said. Another six trucks clear public buildings.

“Everybody that can be working is out there working,” he said.

He is unaware of any crew members out due to COVID-19 illness or exposures.

Outages

The only 17 Eversource power outages in the state are from a downed tree and wires blocking Route 37 near the New Fairfield and Sherman line. Sixteen of the customers live in Sherman and one lives in New Fairfield.

“We have crews there and there is currently no estimated restoration time,” Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross said around 2 p.m. Monday.

The fallen tree near Hardscrabble Road was reported around 11:20 a.m., Gross said.

But local officials expect outages to become a greater issue later in the day as wind speeds pick up.

The snow is expected to lighten during the day Tuesday, eventually tailing off. Travel is expected to be “difficult to impossible” late Monday into the evening, along with “scattered downed tree limbs and blizzard conditions possible” the NWS stated.

Eversource said it is staging power line crews around the state, expecting to be busy in the coming days with potential outages.

“We’ve been watching this storm for days and will adjust our plan accordingly,” Eversource President of Regional Electric Operations Craig Hallstrom said in a statement. “The forecasts call for large amounts of snow and high winds, which may make travel conditions challenging for the crews...We also remind customers that restorations may take longer as we ensure the safety of our employees and customers while continuing to work under the challenging conditions related to the pandemic.”

In preparation for potential outages, Bass said the town is in contact with their Eversource department liaison.

“We’re ready in case those heavy winds do come,” he said.

In a message to the community, Bass urged residents not to touch downed power lines and to report outages to Eversource.

Residents heed warnings

In Danbury, residents scrambled Sunday to get their cars off the street and into the Patriot Parking Garage, which is open for free through the storm. Word started getting around social media Sunday night that the city was calling out tow trucks to clear the roads for plows.

“All vehicles must be off all city streets, as per the (Level 2 snow emergency) ordinance,” said Danbury police Sgt. John Krupinski on a Facebook video message Sunday night. “The Danbury police department will begin towing any vehicle on any city street so that public works will be able to clear the streets of snow.”

Krupinski said the Danbury would only tow as a last resort.

Some residents reported on social media that police officers were blasting sirens as warning signals for residents to move their cars.

“We do not want to tow one vehicle on one city street if this can be helped,” Krupinski said. “We want to work with you, so please help us help public works to keep our streets safe.”

Police have used the PA system in the past to alert residents, Cavo said. Informing residents on Sunday afternoon, rather than early Monday morning, gave more people time to move their cars, he said.

But it remains a challenge to get residents to follow the city’s ordinance against pushing snow onto the road.

On Cavo’s ride home, he saw a resident blow snow from the driveway into the street, all the way into the other travel lane. Cavo paused his conversation with a Hearst Connecticut Media reporter.

“You can’t put the snow in the street,” he called to the resident. “It’s against the law to put the snow in the street.”

Cancellations

The weather shut down COVID-19 vaccination clinics throughout the area. Ridgefield and Danbury canceled Tuesday’s vaccine clinics. The health departments plan to reschedule with those who have appointments.

Nuvance Health closed its vaccine clinics on Monday through noon on Tuesday at Danbury and Norwalk hospitals. The clinic at New Milford Hospital was not affected because it is not normally open on Mondays or Tuesdays. Sharon Hospital’s clinic is closed all day Monday and Tuesday because it is normally closed in the afternoons.

Patients will receive a cancellation email from the Vaccine Administration Management System. Steps for how to reschedule will be included in the email, although new appointments cannot yet be set, Nuvance said.

“Due to the scheduling systems and clinic capacity, we cannot reschedule your appointment for you or add new clinic hours at this time,” Nuvance Health said on its website. “We apologize for this inconvenience.”

The health system, which includes seven hospitals in Connecticut and New York, told patients not to “worry” if they need to schedule their second dose because that can be administered up to six weeks after the first.

“We understand it may be disappointing to have to reschedule your appointment,” Nuvance said. “However, your safety is paramount to us.”

The Pomperaug District Department of Health, which covers Southbury, Oxford and Woodburys, canceled vaccinations for Monday and Tuesday have been canceled due to the snowstorm.

Appointments were canceled for those over 74 at The Greens Condominium in Oxford and the Woodbury Senior Center on Monday and Tuesday.

“We are working on rescheduling appointments for next week, same day same time for each,” said Neal Lustig, health director.

Brookfield still plans to hold a clinic to distribute 100 doses of the COVID vaccine on Thursday, and Dunn said there’s a possibility that they will hold another clinic on Friday, pending the receipt of an extra 100 doses.

New Milford has not made any changes to its vaccine clinic schedule, Bass said. But the town should have an official update from the health department Tuesday.

Schools closed or moved to distance learning on Monday. Bethel, Ridgefield and Newtown were among the districts to close, while Brookfield, New Milford and Region 12 expected students to sign onto their computers for distance learning.

Dunn said the virtual Board of Selectman meeting for Monday is still on, but they’re considering rescheduling the special town meeting on Tuesday which was set to approve the $3.6 million fourth phase of its Four Corners streetscape project. A final decision on that meeting will be made later Monday to give residents enough time to plan.

Cavo expects Danbury City Council to hold its 7:30 p.m. Tuesday meeting over Zoom, unless there are power outages.

Staff writers Currie Engel, Julia Perkins, Rob Ryser, Shayla Colon and Kendra Baker contributed to this report.