We can understand breathless news reports when snow buries Washington, D.C., a city far more familiar with snow jobs of a different variety than piles of the white stuff. But the appearance of snow in January in New England is not a new or unusual phenomenon — no matter how many times television reporters stand in snow banks to report or whatever cute name meteorologists assign to a low pressure system.
By historical winter standards, the blizzard that struck Martha’s Vineyard Saturday was not unusual. It was about a six on the inconvenience scale. Islanders stocked up beforehand and hunkered down. After all, it is January.
Those of us who choose to live here in the off-season pretty much know what to expect in January and February. We rely on friends, good books, good socks, and increasingly, Netflix, to get through the dreary months.
The Saturday storm dumped about a foot of snow — more in some areas and less in others. Winds blew in excess of 40 miles per hour. Driving was extremely difficult.
As the storm intensified, Edgartown firefighters were called out to battle a garage fire burning with the intensity of a blowtorch. Oak Bluffs and Tisbury firefighters provided mutual aid. By the time the blaze was extinguished nearby homes remained unscathed thanks to the hard work and professionalism of our mostly volunteer Island firefighters. Good job.
The garage blaze was not the only fire or emergency call. Firefighters, police, and emergency medical personnel answered numerous calls throughout the day. Without fanfare, Islanders also took to social media with offers to lend a helping hand. Brian Athearn of West Tisbury let neighbors in the Long Point area of West Tisbury know Saturday night that he would be out with his tractor Sunday if they needed a hand shoveling out. He was not alone in offering the type of assistance that binds our community and helps us all to weather the storms — those that both the atmospheric currents and life bring.
Winter storm Jonas — the silly appellation assigned to the blizzard — provided a test of sorts for the newly reconstituted Tisbury Department of Public Works.
Following the department’s poor performance in the face of last winter’s storms, Tisbury selectmen wrested control of the department from its independent elected board. By all accounts, the DPW did a fine job in its first test of the winter season.
By Sunday morning, Main Street in Vineyard Haven was clear, as were main roadways and secondary roads. Throughout the day, DPW crews kept at it, clearing snow. On Monday, crews were busy clearing sidewalks.
Tisbury bylaws require that downtown property owners clear sidewalks. Too often that does not happen in a timely manner along Main Street sidewalks and those leading to the Steamship Authority terminal. Instead, we get a checkerboard of clear and snow-covered passageways. The DPW is to be commended for clearing downtown sidewalks Monday, irrespective of responsibility.
At some point, selectmen might want to consider billing property owners, but waiting for property owners as pedestrians struggle, slip, and slide is not a good strategy. Edgartown has a similar bylaw placing responsibility on property owners. But, Edgartown highway superintendent Stuart Fuller makes sure the downtown sidewalks are clean, then he moves on to the outlying sidewalks and the bike paths.
To be fair, this was a moderate blizzard of relatively short duration when compared with the storms that struck last winter. Still, it provided a test for the Tisbury DPW of coordination, planning and most important, leadership.
DPW director Tom Mello, foreman Bob Blanchard, along with the DPW crews and town administrator John Grande, who returned early from an off-Island meeting Saturday to be here during the storm, got the job done.