City Digs out from Historic Storm: A Big One for Sure, but No Blizzard of `78

This past weekend’s blizzard dumped 24.9 inches on Logan Airport, making it the 5th worst storm on record there.

Meanwhile, an official National Weather Service (NWS) storm spotter targeted Chelsea with 23 inches of snow, showing the historic severity of the storm likely applied to Chelsea as well as Logan.

“Historic, for certain, but no Blizzard of ’78,” said City Manager Jay Ash, who was a junior at Chelsea High School in 1978 and remembers having the week off of school.  “This one has created a great deal of inconvenience in terms of walking and parking, but it was nothing like ’78 when people were getting emergency deliveries of heating oil via snowmobile.”

Ash praised the City’s snow fighting team for keeping up with the weekend storm.

“DPW and the contractors we brought in did a great job,” said Ash. “There have been some complaints, but that’s expected when so much snow falls.  By and far, most people recognize how difficult it is to combat snow when it gets into the double digit, let alone double foot range, and they were very complimentary of the job our guys did in fighting it.

“We got to every street as we did and redid our routes,” continued Ash. “The guys worked around the clock and really gave of themselves to do as much as humanly possible in battling Mother Nature.”

DPW Director Joe Foti said the City doubled its workforce for the storm by bringing in contractors. In total, Foti had 24 pieces of equipment plowing, up from the usual 12 that would be utilized for a typical winter storm.

“We started calling around before the storm and got as many commitments as we could to get contractors in to augment our guys,” said Foti. “Overall, it went well, although there were times when we almost were overwhelmed. The guys pulled through, though, and we were able to stay far enough ahead of the storm so that very few motorists were stuck and every street was plowed several times during the storm.”

Ash said he was unaware of any power outages and believed property damage was minimal.

“When you look at what happened on the South Shore and elsewhere in New England, we were pretty lucky,” he said. “We really have minor inconveniences compared to those who still don’t have power or had their homes destroyed by high tides.”

This Monday, the attention shifted from fighting the storm to cleaning up after it. Although there is always a temptation to allow Mother Nature to reclaim the snow, Ash and Foti said they have been directing more resources to cleaning up streets.

“We’ve been removing snow piles during the day and having contractors in at night to do the same,” said Foti. “We have to focus on our main streets for so many reasons, but have also looked at how to get into some neighborhoods to clean up there too.”

DPW crews, augmented with crews hired from Roca, the local agency that has a transitional employment program contract with the City, have spent the week clearing sidewalks in front of City-owned properties.

Private property owners are responsible for clearing their public sidewalks.

“I’ve been impressed with 80 percent of the property owners and how quickly they cleaned,” said Ash. “We require a path to be shoveled within 24 hours of the storm. Those who haven’t complied are now getting $50 tickets. It remains critical that everyone does their part to clean the sidewalks for pedestrians, especially our kids and seniors.”

Ash said that the City has also been picking up parking space savers, which are allowed to be used to save a spot for up to 48 hours after a storm.

“Parking spaces on the street are public spaces,” Ash said. “If we treat everyone the same, saying there are no reserved spaces two days after a storm, then everyone has a fair chance at finding parking.”

Foti said it was too early to estimate the cost of the storm. In addition to paying contractors and the overtime given to City staff, sand and salt, as well as some mechanical failures, it will likely end up costing the City somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000.

“But we’re not worrying about that right now.  Our first and only priority is to do all that we can to get things back to as normal as possible as quickly as possible,” commented Ash.

Warmer weather during the middle of this past week helped the melting process.

“We always worry about the melt and freeze, and have the added difficultly of having many catch basins still covered in snow,” said Foti. “Having said that, there were many good Samaritans that helped us out by opening up other catch basins and doing more than what is required in clearing sidewalks.  That’s always a big help and a good way that Chelsea people can support each other.”

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