Microburst wreaks havoc in Deerfield, Montague

By DOMENIC POLI and MAX MARCUS, The Recorder, August 1, 2019

Montague and Deerfield took heavy damage from Tuesday afternoon’s storm, with Eversource reporting about 800 power outages from downed trees and utility poles between the two towns.

In addition, the storm damaged crops and greenhouses.

Technically, the storm was a brief, downward blast of cold air in a concentrated area, called a “microburst,” said Bill Simpson, a spokesman from the National Weather Service’s Boston office.

When the air hits the ground, it bounces out in all directions, causing erratic wind patterns, Simpson explained.

“Everyone talks about tornadoes, but as we saw yesterday, a downburst can cause just as much damage,” Simpson said.

Deerfield Police Detective Adam Sokoloski said the police station began getting swamped with calls when the storm started around 4:15 p.m., and additional resources were summoned to handle the situation. He said the Department of Public Works crews used bucket loaders to clear roads of debris and six extra police officers were brought in to help with traffic control.

Montague Public Works was busy from 5 p.m. until 1:30 a.m., Department Superintendent Tom Bergeron said. All calls came from Montague Center, where nine roads had to be closed during the storm, he said, and a few roads remained closed Wednesday while Eversource repaired power lines.

Sokoloski said utility companies Verizon, Comcast and Eversource sent crews to restore power that had been cut off.

“We all worked throughout the night to get the roads clear for the morning commute,” Sokoloski said. “As of 6:30 a.m., all roads are clear and all utility companies had finished their work.”

There were stretches of road Wednesday with large branches and debris that had been cut up and moved off to the side.

Sokoloski said the South Deerfield and Old Deerfield fire districts responded to calls. He mentioned there was a lightning strike at 91 River Road, but no fire resulted.

A lightning strike was also the likely cause of a structure fire at 15 Prospect

Heights Lane in Erving shortly after 5 p.m. According to Erving Fire Chief Philip Wonkka, everyone got out of the house with no reported injuries.

Sokoloski explained that anyone signed up for the town’s emergency alert system received a robocall alerting them to the microburst, and he encourages others to join in. Residents can enroll at E VA C Z o or by texting deerfieldma to 67283.

Bergeron said severe storms like this one seem to be getting more common.

“At least once or twice a year we’ll have a storm like this,” he said.

Red Fire Farm in Montague Center was hit particularly hard by the microburst.

“In my memory, it’s the worst storm we’ve ever had,” said farmer Ryan Voiland.

The farmers were unsure how much of their crops could be salvaged, if any. Several of the farm’s greenhouses had the plastic coverings torn off and the metal support arches mangled, leaving the fruits and vegetables exposed.

“That’s a lot of power in the wind right there,” said farmer Sarah Voiland.

They had planted their tomatoes and peppers in April, earlier than usual this year so they could be harvested and brought to market sooner than others farmers’ crops. By now the peppers are green, and can be harvested that way and sold for about $3 per pound if they can’t be replanted, Ryan Voiland said. But with a few more weeks they would have become red peppers, which sell for about $5 per pound.

By Wednesday morning, many of the tomatoes and peppers had already been ruined by overexposure to sunlight. Many of the plants had been pulled sideways by the wind, and the farmers were unsure whether it would be worth the time and labor to replant them.

The tomatoes that were affected by the storm would have been ready to harvest within the next three weeks, Ryan Voiland said.