Friday, March 04, 2011

20th Anniversary of the Rochester Ice Storm of 1991

I initially blogged about my experiences with the Ice Storm of 1991 some years ago. The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle has a retrospective including a slide show of photos

The big thing about the storm, aside from the massive tree damage, was the number of people who lost power and then went days, some even weeks, without power. I was only 14 but I understood the concept that this was a public relations nightmare for RG&E. It didn't help their good image much more when they instituted a rate increase in later months to help with costs incurred by the storm. My house was without power for just over 6 days. Like many, we stood in line for dry ice at a local church so that the well-stocked freezer in the basement wouldn't defrost, spoiling the food.

Even with photography and video, it was still sometimes hard to grasp how hard this storm was on tree population. The magnitude of how many limbs and trees were affected became easier to understand when driving south on Route 590 just before the 104 interchange. Massive piles of branches towered. At first, I think the town of Irondequoit was burning the wood until the neighbors complained. They later resorted to chipping the limbs into mulch. The town gave it out for free, and then continued to offer free mulch at Durand-Eastman Park for years after. Up to 3 years later, I used to joke with my parents when we drove by the steaming mulch pile that they were still trying to grind up trees from the Ice Storm.

The night hours stick out for me still. While I was growing up, we didn't watch a lot of television. That changed when I moved away and my mom discovered HGTV. In 1991, we were mainly a family of readers with the occasional hockey or football game thrown in the mix for my dad. During those power-less days, the oil lamps and candles threw off a decent amount of light at night. I could have read but opted to drag out coloring books because it gave me something to do with my hands while we listened to WHAM for hours. My parents didn't listen to talk radio, but the friends staying with us for the week did. It seems like they tried to keep local hosts on the radio all day and into the night so that people could call in from all over Monroe County to tell their survival story or share information. These days we'd Twitter or post something on Facebook that people would read on their phones so we'd know what was going on. As much as I love having that kind of information readily available, hearing it on the radio made it more human.You could hear the emotion in people's voices. The frustration over how long it was taking crews to make their way through neighborhoods, worries about where to find generators that were sold out all over town, sadness over the loss of grand, beloved trees in yards; and appreciation for the radio station providing a venue for people to talk during the disaster.  

Rochester would be hit again with a destructive Ice Storm in 2003, but it would not compare to the Ice Storm of 1991. In a sense, I suppose the 1991 storm is comparable to the Blizzard of '77 for Buffalo in terms of the way it affected a large area for weeks and also by how much people continue to talk about it, even 20 years after the fact.

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