Buried! Storms pound area with more than four feet of snow
By Brian Sweeney
When it comes to record snowfalls in the Catskills, last week’s might be at the top of the heap.
Most people the News spoke to said they had never seen more snow in the Catskills than the amounts that arrived in storms on Tuesday and Thursday.
When it was all over, reports from area residents generally cited totals in the four-foot range. Belleayre Mountain officials said they received nearly eight feet of snow from constant storms. By any measure, that’s a lot of snow.
In addition to sheer number of man-hours needed for snow removal, the larger problem was: Where do we put the snow?
Those charged with snow removal duties had only one option: up.
As a result, streets, driveways and sidewalks were piled higher and higher. For days, roads and other pathways have resembled tunnels.
The storm was a case of “too much of a good thing” for those owning snowplows or heavy equipment such as backhoes and bulldozers. While these services were in extreme demand, the sheer volume of work made it impossible for operators to keep pace.
“I haven’t slept in two days,” said a weary John Kowatch, owner of Margaretville-based JK Construction, on Sunday. His construction crews had shifted their focus to nearly round-the-clock snow removal. Like others in the business, they had little chance of keeping pace with the work.
Little recovery time
Tuesday’s foot of heavy snow was quickly removed and by Wednesday afternoon, temperatures reached into the low 40s. The respite would not last long.
Thursday’s storm started innocently enough and most predictions were in the 12-to-20-inch range. A lot of snow. but not record-breaking. By early evening, it became apparent that the high-range predictions would prove woefully low.
Snow fell at a rate of several inches per hour and rapidly piled up into Friday morning. While beautiful to watch, the immense volume would soon prove problematic and dangerous.
With snow still falling, many homeowners and business owners could be found shoveling their rooftops on Friday and Saturday to lighten the enormous strain brought about by 40+ inches of snow.
The area saw numerous reports of collapsed roofs, including the Phoenicia Diner and a section of a New Kingston barn owned by Robert Oravetz (see related story below).
Snowplowing crews were called upon to work phenomenal hours. Still, the task at hand was daunting. If roads weren’t plowed frequently, the snow eventually rose to such levels that plows on pickup trucks were often rendered useless.
For many folks outside of villages and hamlets, hiring heavy equipment operators was the only option for snow removal.
Snowshoes and cross-country skis proved to be of little value, in most cases. Many snowmobilers discovered that their machines were no match for four feet of snow.
While plow crews coped as well at they could, progress was slow. For many folks, the record snowfall simply kept them inside. Another 4-6 inches fell throughout Friday afternoon and evening, adding frosting to an enormous snow cake.
As with any event of this type, people were scouring their memories for something to which they could compare this storm. The March 1993 blizzard was cited by a number of people. But that storm was not preceded by a foot of snow two days earlier. For most longtime residents, this was more snow than they could ever recall.
Oddly enough, areas such as Shokan eastward toward Kingston received no snow from this storm.