ADDISON COUNTY — The first day of winter on Dec. 21 brought a storm with hurricane-strength gales that knocked down trees and power lines, plunging more than 43,000 Vermonters into the dark beginning early Friday morning. The weather caused at least one fatality.
Green Mountain Power said that 34,270 of its customers were affected by the windstorm over the weekend, while the Vermont Electric Cooperative reported over 9,000.
The storm’s lone victim was identified as Pierre Bilodeau of Whiting, who died in a multi-vehicle crash on Route 7 South in Middlebury on Friday. Bilodeau, 50, was driving a dump truck when a strong gust of wind caused an empty tractor-trailer in the oncoming lane to collide with Bilodeau’s truck as well as two other vehicles.
“There’s no doubt in our minds that the wind played a factor,” said Myron Selleck, assistant chief of the Middlebury Fire Department, which responded to the accident scene on Friday. “It’s our belief, failing (other conclusions from) an official police report, that a gust of wind caused the tractor trailer to overturn, causing the sequence of events that ended tragically.”
Selleck added that the fire department was kept busy on Friday and throughout the weekend with reports of downed wires. The fire department blocked traffic on several roads until GMP arrived to assess safety conditions.
“Certainly in my personal experience, these were the strongest winds I can remember,” Selleck said. “Working on Route 7, the winds were tremendous.”
Addison County was hit hard, with winds of up to 67 miles per hour blasting the slopes of the Green Mountains. Property damages, including a barn roof that was swept away in Middlebury, according to a GMP release, caused additional safety hazards. More dangerous still were the downed power lines that were covered by the several inches of snow that fell over parts of the county on Saturday.
GMP reported late Sunday that its customers in Lincoln in Addison County and Castleton in Rutland County were the hardest hit in terms of the volume of power outages.
Lincoln Town Clerk Sally Ober said that Lincoln residents experienced power outages that persisted late into Sunday night, while some individuals remained without power on Monday morning.
Ober echoed GMP’s assessment that homes that remained without power Monday were very isolated cases, in which a line down caused just one or two homes to lose power.
“The power company is out there working hard, but so many individual homes were affected,” Ober said.
GMP said that line crews worked throughout Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to restore power.
“Our entire workforce has converged on the handful of towns in eastern Addison and western Rutland counties that were devastated by incredible winds that ravaged the region Friday. We have installed nearly 50 new poles to replace poles knocked down by wind and trees, in some cases sheared off at ground level, an enormous undertaking requiring hundreds of man-hours,” GMP spokesperson Jeremy Baker said in Sunday statement.
On Monday, residents of the Kampersville campground on Lake Dunmore in Salisbury said they experienced power outages throughout the weekend, road blockages and substantial property damage.
Susan Coburn, the store clerk at Kampersville, said that high winds blew off the roof of the Laundromat, at least one camper was badly damaged, fallen trees and other debris blocked Lake Dunmore Road, and trees were down all over the softball field.
“We had a pine tree go down in the middle of the store (property),” Coburn said.
Holly Killary, who lives off of West Shore Road in Salisbury, was one of 30 households in the state that remained without power on Monday morning. Killary said that her power was restored by noon on Christmas Eve Day, as GMP had pledged. Killary reported seeing “many massive trees that just snapped,” as well as downed power lines on West Shore Road, Hooker Road and Rogers Road.
“I’m looking out my window at a large poplar tree that just snapped at its base,” Killary said “Thank God it’s in the middle of the yard and not a driveway.”
As of late Monday, every Vermont resident that lost power was on track to have it restored before Christmas, thanks to the workers who toiled through the snowy weekend to bring heat and water to those who spent the weekend around a woodstove, or visiting with friends and family.
But Lincoln’s Ober said that many residents had adapted quickly, and were well prepared to withstand the weekend’s challenges.
“Vermonters are good at this,” she said.