Region readies for heavy rain, flooding, ice through Saturday

  • During a light rain Friday afternoon in Northampton, some people chose to use umbrellas. Freezing temperatures are forecast to return to the area this weekend. —JERREY ROBERTS/GAZETTE STAFF

Staff Writer 
Friday, January 12, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — Heavy rains followed by plunging temperatures could produce problems with flooding and travel through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

A flood watch remains in effect until 1 p.m. Saturday, with heavy rain and melting snow expected across the state. A cold front moving in early Saturday will turn wet conditions icy, and a separate winter weather advisory is in effect from 5 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday.

On Friday, Lenore Correia, a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service, said 2 to 3 inches of rain were expected to fall in Amherst, while communities to the west, including Northampton, were expected to receive 1 to 2 inches.

Temperatures reached 59 degrees in Northampton Friday afternoon, contributing to rapidly melting snow. “Flooding is definitely possible,” Correia said. “Especially in places with poor drainage, it’s something to be aware of.”

Departments of Public Works across Hampshire County were busy this past week clearing waterways and catch basins in preparation for potential floods.

In Pelham, DPW Superintendent Rick Adamcek worked with others to clear away the snow from over 200 catch basins, in addition to clearing waterways; in Ware, DPW Highway Foreman Chuck Niedzwiecki was doing the same.

Niedzwiecki and his workers worked for two days and two nights during the week to ensure flood waters would find their way to the basins, knowing any water left on the road would turn to ice come Saturday. On Friday afternoon, Niedzwiecki deemed the mission a success.

“Thank God we have a full-sized snowblower,” Niedzwiecki said. “It’s actually looking really good. Everything’s going, everything’s draining real nice.”

The rain is forecast to continue through Saturday morning, and freezing temperatures could then turn the precipitation into a wintry mix of rain, sleet and snow.

“We have a really strong cold front coming through overnight, so around 3 a.m. temperatures are really going to drop,” Correia said. “Within two hours you guys drop 10 degrees and it just keeps going down.”

While temperatures in Northampton will hover in the mid- to low-50s Friday night, they will plummet early Saturday. The National Weather Service forecasts that the temperature will drop to 32 degrees by 6 a.m.

Such swift drops in temperature are uncommon, and may be termed “flash freezes,” said Dave Hayes, a South Deerfield weather personality and creator of the Dave Hayes The Weather Nut Facebook page.

Pedestrians, Hayes said, should be wary of wet sidewalks that could quickly ice over.

“A storm passes to our west, putting us in a warm sector. Then, this particular cold front comes through very sharply,” Hayes said. “People have to take extra precautions because especially any standing water will freeze very quickly.”

The winter weather advisory cautions travelers to prepare for slippery roads throughout Massachusetts on Saturday, as a flash freeze will quickly turn water and slush into ice. Untreated roads will be especially hazardous.

In Northampton, city officials expressed confidence in the DPW to successfully deal with flooding and icy roads.

“We’re not doing anything crazy or radical. We’re keeping an eye on the level of the Connecticut River, and tomorrow when there’s flash flooding the DPW will take care of it,” said Lyn Simmons, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz’s chief of staff.

Protecting the homeless

While the approaching weather was met with optimism from Pioneer Valley towns, some expressed concerns for the homeless, who are affected disproportionately by hampered transportation systems, flooding and cold weather.

Diane Drohan, a volunteer coordinator at the Northampton Survival Center, said homeless people sometimes struggle to get to soup kitchens and food pantries during bad weather. The Northampton Survival Center has sometimes had far fewer people come when road conditions are poor, she said.

“In general, transportation is hard for our clients,” said Drohan. “Sometimes it’s weather-related whether we see folks and sometimes it’s transportation-related, and sometimes those things go hand-in-hand.”

In Amherst, Hwei-Ling Greeney, the founder and executive director of Amherst Community Connections, said homeless people will likely flock to places like Jones Library Saturday until homeless shelters open at night. Still, most homeless people will be forced to battle the weather in some way or another, she said.

“Being homeless means they are outside a lot and exposed to the elements during the day,” Greeney said.

Amherst Community Connections helps homeless people with housing applications, counseling, and services designed to help in the long term. During bad weather, Greeney said, carrying out this mission can sometimes be difficult.

“They have their backpacks. A lot of time when we are helping them with their applications they will take out their water-soaked documents, their water-soaked license or Social Security card. So the water, it’s unavoidable for them,” Greeney said.

Greeney added that many would like to see shelters open earlier during severely cold days, or add shelters for “overflow.” In Amherst, there are few places for the homeless to stay warm during the winter once shelters reach full capacity.

“Last week when the weather was very cold — below 15 degrees with windchill — apparently the shelter was at capacity,” Greeney said.

Afternoon temperatures Saturday should be around 20 degrees, Correia said, and then remain below freezing through Thursday, Jan. 18.