Bicentennial Snapshot # 34: Extreme Weather Part 2

Today we continue our look at historic weather events.

Clip 1: DPW salt barn, 2018, Office of Town Historian

DPW salt barn, 2018, Office of Town Historian

For the most part, we Grecians take snow storms in stride; they are inconvenient but manageable. We can count on the Greece DPW to have our roads plowed and salted in a timely manner.

Most of us around the Town of Greece and Monroe county are unsure if March is going to come in like a Lamb or Lion and go out like a Lamb or Lion or surprise us with some Lamb and Loin weather events in the middle of the month not just at the beginning or end of March.

However, one has to agree with local meteorologist Stacey Pensgen, hearing the words ice and high winds in a forecast can cause some anxiety in these parts or as the cliché states, once-bitten, twice shy. Two storms, in particular, come to mind: the Ice Storm of 1991 and the Wind Storm of 2017.

ice on the tree branch
Photo by Jordan Benton on
Stacey Pensgen

Ice Storm of 1991

Meteorologist Kevin Williams

Meteorologist Kevin Williams in explaining what happened said: “the ice storm commenced on March 3, 1991. It resulted from low-pressure tracking from the south into central and eastern New York. This allowed warm air from the Gulf states to flow into the upper levels of the atmosphere over Rochester, while northeast winds at the surface drew subfreezing air into the area from Ontario. Snowflakes which fell from the cold clouds above melted into raindrops upon reaching the warmer layer above the surface, only to freeze upon reaching the ground, where temperatures were below 32 degrees.”

Weather Daily Charts from the National Weather Service

Sunday, March 3, 1991, Weather Map as of 7 am
Monday, March 4, 1991 weather map as of 7 am

Greece along with the rest of Monroe County was in the “sweet spot.” Again, quoting Kevin Williams: the storm “produced a 50-mile-wide band of freezing rain aligned along the Genesee River Valley. While Syracuse to the east experienced rain, Buffalo to the west had mainly sleet and snow. But Rochester endured 17 hours of continuous freezing rain resulting in an ice accretion of more than one inch.”

It started at about 10:30 pm on Sunday, March 3, and by the early morning hours of March 4, people were awoken by what sounded like rifle shots. It was tree limbs cracking and falling to the ground. Electrical wires and telephone lines came down with the trees. Paul Holahan, Greece’s Commissioner of Public Works at the time, was alerted to the problem at 2 am and by 4 am knew it was a major event. He called John Yagielski, the school superintendent to let him know that the schools needed to be closed. They would be closed for a week.

If you like to see the Unedited version of Paul Pakusch’s 10-minute video that was posted in 2010. It Starts at Paul’s, home and yard, then his drive to work, later in the day, and the next two days around his neighborhood. Florida Ave, Dewey Ave, Seneca Parkway, Lake Ave, East Ave, Tiernan Street, River Heights, Perinton Street, California Drive, Haviland Park. Paul Pakusch worked for WHEC Channel 10 at the time during the 1991 Ice Storm.

Also if you like you can check out the March 11, 1991, NewsTeam 10 special from the Ice Storm the folks that run Rochester TV Archives on YouTube have archived that broadcast and you can check it out here.

Aerial view of police headquarters on Island Cottage Road, 1983 from the Office of the Town Historian

Crews were especially needed to clear the main streets and others were needed to pump water when, because of the lack of power, the sewage pump stations failed; the police headquarters was flooded nearly every day” for a week with raw sewage. The police station itself was also without electricity and was working through an emergency generator. Fire crews didn’t bother going home, but worked around the clock.

Storm Shelter Locations

Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were without power, some for as long as two weeks. Sometimes one side of the street had power and the other did not; neighbors shared generators and long extension cords snaked over lawns and driveways. Two days after the storm the temperature plummeted; shelters were set up at Hoover Drive Junior School and the Greece Assembly of God Church. In North Greece, Irene DeMay opened the doors to Hotel DeMay as a shelter as well. You can learn more about the Hotel DeMay in Snapshot 25.

Customers Without Power – WHEC’s Ice Storm Coverage March 1991 you can watch the WHEC NEWS TEAM 10 coverage of the Ice Storm on YouTube on the Rochester TV Archive channel
Aerial view of Hoover Drive Junior High, the 1940s, from the Office of the Town Historian
Greece Assembly of God
Ice storm damage, 1991, photo by Bill Sauers
Ice storm damage, 1991, photo by Bill Sauers

Trash didn’t get picked up and mail wasn’t delivered for two days.

More than three thousand trees in the town of Greece were damaged. DPW crews were busy into June clearing away brush and tree debris and hauling it to the Flynn Road transfer center; 400,000 cubic yards of it or enough wood to build 7,000 homes.

Still from Paul Pakusch 39 minute video from the 1991 Ice Storm
Ice storm, 1991, from the Office of the Town Historian

In the aftermath of the Ice Storm of ’91, the town, already operating on an austerity budget and waiting for FEMA money, had to borrow money to meet expenses by the end of the year; RG&E started a rigorous tree-trimming protocol, and residents were left with indelible memories of terrible destruction as well as breathing-taking beauty and stories to tell for generations to come about cold nights, helpful neighbors, and surviving the “Storm of the Century.”

“April is the cruelest month,”

— The Waste Land by T. S. Elliot, Poet

The poet T. S. Elliot said that “April is the cruelest month,” but weatherwise for Greece, it’s the month of March. Out of the top ten worst snowstorms in Rochester’s history, four were in March. The 1984 Leap Day storm lasted more than five days, bringing more than 30 inches. There were two blizzards at the beginning of March 1999, dropping 42 inches of snow. We got off relatively lightly during the “Storm of the Century” on March 12, 1993, with 23 inches of snow, thunder, and lightning.

Snowiest and Least Snowest Marches from 1896 to 2021 using data from and NOAA

Wind Storm of 2017

On March 3, 2017, we had winds gusting to 60 miles an hour, bringing down trees and power lines. But that was just an appetizer for what Mother Nature had in store for us less than a week later. Blame it on the sun. It was a gorgeous day on March 8, 2017. Now the forecast did call for high winds. But most people thought it would be a repeat of the 3rd. However, all that sunshine destabilized the atmosphere; the sun heated the air and as the warm air rose it created a vacuum and air rushed in to fill the vacuum, that is wind.

Formation of wind as a result of localized temperature differences.
Blue dots are Wind Speed, Greece Triangles is the Wind Gust, Gray is the Peak Wind

Winds gusted to 40, 50, and 60 mph much of the day, broke 70 mph around 1 p.m., and then hit an astonishing 81 mph at 1:35 p.m. Trees came crashing down onto streets and on top of homes and on Long Pond Road utility poles fall in a row like a set of dominoes. 40,000 homes and businesses lost power in Monroe County, a large portion of them in Greece.

Repair work was delayed as the high winds persisted into the next day, making it too dangerous for crews. Utility workers from all over came to assist RG & E. Local hotels were full of residents so a crew from Canada was billeted at the Greece Community Center. Some homes were without power for two weeks.

Repairs on Long Pond were delayed due to the lack of enough utility poles to replace all the broken ones. We’ve had more wind and ice storms since these two big ones, which is why whenever ice or wind is in the forecast, we hope it won’t be as bad as the Ice Storm of 1991, or the Wind Storm of 2017.

Thanks for joining us today. Join us again next week as we pay tribute to the soldiers of World War I.