, Newburyport, MA

February 1, 2013

Weather wreaks havoc on winter plans

Port Winter Carnival, Ice Fishing Tournament postponed one week

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Wednesday’s spring-like temperatures were quickly forgotten as a cold front with accompanying high winds barreled through the region yesterday, knocking down several trees and branches and causing numerous power outages.

This week’s bizarre January weather also turned outdoor winter plans on their head — forcing organizers to postpone tomorrow’s Winter Carnival in Newburyport and Sunday’s Ice Fishing Tournament at the Artichoke Reservoir.

However, as of yesterday, West Newbury’s Winter Carnival was still scheduled to take place Sunday at Mill Pond Recreation Area on Main Street from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Despite the drastic nosedive in temperatures, Newburyport’s Winter Carnival organizers decided to err on the side of caution and postpone the annual event held at the Bartlet Mall until next Saturday, Feb. 9.

“We took a look at the ice and realized it might not be safe (tomorrow) morning,” Newburyport parks administrator Lisë Reid said.

There were also concerns that the ground would not be very frozen by this weekend and the traffic from the carnival crowds would cause serious damage to the grass at the Mall, Reid added.

Public safety concerns surrounding the Artichoke Reservoir led Keith Stanwood to pull the plug on Sunday’s Ice Fishing Tournament sponsored by the Essex County Sportsmen’s Association.

The tournament has been rescheduled for Sunday, Feb. 10. Last year, the lack of a real winter freeze led the 2012 tournament to be canceled altogether.

Stanwood said he was shocked to see the reservoir go from completely frozen and supporting numerous ice fishermen over the weekend to the area surrounding the banks becoming partially thawed by yesterday afternoon.

“I wouldn’t put anyone on (the ice),” he said. “You couldn’t step on it. All the bank ice is gone. We must have had so much rain start rolling around, the wind ate up all the bank ice on the north side.”

The high winds also resulted in power outages. On Plum Island alone, more than 100 households on the Newburyport portion of the barrier island were without power for parts of yesterday.

Newburyport Emergency Management director and city Marshal Thomas Howard said at one point yesterday afternoon, 163 people were without power. The outages were short-lived, however, with electricity restored by roughly 2 p.m., Howard said.

Additional power outages were reported near the Joppa Flats section of the city as well as in West Newbury, Merrimac and Newbury, according to electricity provider National Grid and police departments

Police departments across Greater Newburyport received numerous reports of trees blown over, power lines down and plenty of trash barrels rolling into streets, but no serious damage.

Motorists in Peabody weren’t as fortunate as high winds resulted in several telephone poles along the busy Route 114 corridor being compromised to the point where officials closed the highly trafficked road.

Yesterday’s harsh weather affected businesses as well.

Amesbury Sports Park canceled all snow tubing for the day as high winds prevented park officials from grooming snow on the tracks. Park officials expected snow tubing to resume today, according to the park’s website.

Souffle’s coffee shop on Water Street in downtown Newburyport restricted access to its main door as several champagne glasses were lost from wind gusts brought in as customers entered.

Statewide, more than 32,000 National Grid customers experienced service disruptions yesterday. National Grid crews, who were being assisted by additional outside work crews, were making progress removing downed trees and tree limbs and repairing damaged equipment, according to a National Grid spokeswoman.

“Our crews were out all (Wednesday) night working on outages and are making good progress with restoring service to customers,” Kathy Lyford, National Grid vice president of New England operations, said yesterday afternoon. “We anticipate that the majority of customers will be restored tonight. In the meantime, we appreciate our customers’ patience and urge everyone to be safe.”

Matthew Belk, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, said yesterday’s high winds were the result of a powerful cold front that moved across the region in the morning.

As a result, temperatures which began in the 50s early yesterday morning plummeted to more January-like numbers by day’s end. Strong wind gusts are expected to linger well into this afternoon, Belk added.

Charles Reynolds, who is organizing the Winter Carnival in West Newbury, believes the weather is actually playing in the event’s favor. The recent warmup and rain created a smooth surface of pond that he estimates to be about 6 to 8 inches thick.

Reynolds said a couple days of freezing temperatures and the potential for some light snow on Sunday should make for perfect conditions for the event, which had to be canceled the past two years due to the weather. Last year, it just wasn’t cold enough. In 2011, there was simply too much snow to utilize the pond and area surrounding it.

The annual town event includes ice skating, sledding and plenty of other ice-related activities and fun games. The West Newbury Fire Department will hold an ice rescue demonstration at 10:30 a.m. and will be available to answer questions about their ice safety and rescue equipment. All activities are free.

In Newburyport, however, the unpredictable weather pattern now has organizers of the city’s Winter Carnival looking ahead to next weekend.

The same schedule of activities will remain in play for next weekend’s event, which will go from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. If the Frog Pond succeeds in freezing, one of the main attractions of the day will be the Human Dog Sled Race. The Newburyport Mothers Club will host children’s games and snowshoeing demonstrations will be offered by outdoor gear retailer REI. Horse-drawn hayrides will be provided by Colby Farm, and free cookies and cocoa will be served.

Organizers still plan to use ice shavings from the Graf Rink and snow, if any falls, from Frog Pond to create a sledding hill, Reid said. Volunteers will be needed to help create the sledding surface, and are asked to come to the Greenleaf Street side of the Mall, with shovels if possible, next Friday, Feb. 8, beginning at 3:30 p.m.

As for the Ice Fishing Tournament at the Artichoke Reservoir, Stanwood is hoping he won’t have to call it off for a second consecutive year. He’s got his fingers crossed for a hard freeze in the coming days. If that happens, the tournament, which offers $1,000 in prize money, will go off as planned, just one week later, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The entry fee is $20 and sign-up will occur at the tournament in the Turkey Hill parking area in Newburyport.

“It’s depressing,” Stanwood said. “But you can’t control the weather.”

Daily News editor Katie Lovett contributed to this report.