Severe weather causes power outages Wednesday, while threat of more storms prompt concern about July 4 festivities

Thursday, July 03, 2014
Severe weather including heavy rain, lightning and wind moved through the Pioneer Valley late Wednesday afternoon, knocking out power for thousands of customers, bringing down tree limbs, and prompting the National Weather Service to issue severe thunderstorm and flash flood watches.

No injuries were reported as a result of the storm.

One lightning strike caused a fire in a home at 11 Boyden Road in Pelham at 5:24 p.m. Pelham Fire Lt. Jason Hall said lightning struck nearby and traveled to the house, causing several electrical outlets and insulation to start burning in the basement. There was minor smoke and fire damage to the house.

Hall said family members, who were home at the time of the fire, can stay in their house but firefighters turned off power in case the electrical system was damaged.

The Western Massachusetts Electric Co. reported significant power outages in Franklin County, including 1,200 customers in Greenfield and 777 in Conway. There were also 553 customers in Cummington without power, and scattered outages in Chesterfield, Hadley, Worthington and Middlefield. National Grid also reported scattered outages.

Downtown Greenfield was without power for more than two hours as crews from WMECO worked to repair storm damage.

By 10:30 p.m., the utility had restored power to its customers in Hampshire County with the exception of one home in Easthampton. A handful of homes in Whately and Deerfield, among other Franklin County towns, were still without power at 10:30 p.m.

WMECO spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said downed trees were responsible for the majority of Wednesday’s outages. Another spokeswoman, Toni Berlandy, said the company restored power to 15,927 homes in western Massachusetts during the storm and in the hours after. At 11 p.m., 843 were still without power, she said.

In Northampton, branches fell during the storm on Prospect Street near Cooley Dickinson Hospital, on Elm Street at the intersection with Bedford Terrace, on Montague Road and on Landy Drive. City crews had cleared all branches by Wednesday night, Northampton police said.

Holiday changes

Threatened storms over the next couple of days have prompted organizers of some holiday festivities to reschedule, while other organizers have devised backup plans.

South Hadley has moved its holiday fireworks celebration at the Michael E. Smith Middle School from Thursday to Saturday at 6 p.m., according to town recreation director Andy Rogers.

The July 4th celebration on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus is still planned for Friday at 5 p.m., but could be moved to Saturday in the event of rain, according to the town website.

Meanwhile, the Boston Pops annual July 4th concert and fireworks show attended by thousands is being moved up a day to Thursday because of possible heavy rains ahead of Tropical Storm Arthur.

Organizers and public safety officials said Wednesday afternoon the celebration is being rescheduled to what appears to be the best of two potential bad weather days. Arthur is expected to pass well east of New England over the weekend.

The performance takes place in the Hatch Shell along the Charles River Esplanade, with fireworks set off from barges on the river.

Weather experts say threats of storms will pass by the weekend, bringing a return to more conventional summer weather.

“The weekend’s going to be great,” said weather curator Dave Hayes of Deerfield, better known for his Facebook persona, Dave Hayes The Weather Nut. “It’s going to be cooler and drier, upper 70s and low 80s.”

What comes before is a different story.

“It’s not like, surprising or anything, but it’s a big change from what we had,” Hayes said Wednesday afternoon. “Today and tomorrow are definitely really muggy, showery, changeable kind of days.”

On Friday, he said, Hampshire County might see some additional rain when a cold front coming in from New York and Tropical Storm Arthur coming up from Florida meet in the middle.

Hayes said for people looking to travel, Friday will definitely not be a good beach day on the Cape, noting that the Nantucket fireworks celebration has been moved to Saturday.

Bill Simpson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, said that while he does not expect it to rain for any long period of time Friday, there will be so much moisture in the atmosphere that it could shower briefly at different points throughout the day.

Sun in Chesterfield

In the 20 years that Ed Severance has organized the Chesterfield Independence Day Parade, he’s been lucky. There has always been sunshine.

Again this year, despite an iffy forecast sparked by a cold front meeting a tropical storm this week, Severance remains optimistic.

The 62nd annual July 4th parade and all of that day’s festivities are still planned, rain or shine, he said.

“We don’t have a good 5th of July parade,” he said lightheartedly Wednesday.

Festivities in Chesterfield’s town center begin at 7 a.m. Friday with a pancake breakfast, and the parade kicks off at 10:30 a.m. Severance said that most of the activities planned that day — which include a chicken barbecue, face painting and historic exhibits — are under cover or inside, so the only part that could be canceled is the family softball game. Still, he hopes the rain will kindly hold off till after the celebrations end around 3 p.m.

“I’m more of a glass-half-full kind of guy,” he added.

For other organizers of annual Valley pastimes, the uncertainty has left them waiting anxiously.

“I wish it would start raining now so it would just get it out of its system,” said Laurie Millman of the Center for New Americans, an organizer of the July 4 naturalization ceremony put on each year on the lawn of the Hampshire County Superior Courthouse.

In the event of rain, the 11 a.m. ceremony will be moved inside the courthouse, but in an effort to keep the event outside if at all possible, she said she will make that decision at the last possible moment. She said she’ll be at the courthouse around 8:30 a.m., when she will have to make the choice whether to put up all the chairs and equipment inside or out.

“We will have to look at the sky and see what’s happening,” she said. “Listen, we’re praying for sun.”

The July Fourth celebration on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is still planned for Friday at 5 p.m., but could be moved to Saturday in the event of rain, according to the town website. The Amherst fireworks celebration takes place on the fields behind the McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Stadium Drive. There will be live music and food beginning at 5 p.m., and fireworks about 9:30 p.m.

Staff writer Rebecca Everett contributed to this story. Material from the Associated Press also was used.

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.