2007 Year in Review: Weather

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(Host) In Vermont, the weather is frequently the news. It makes or breaks growing seasons on the farms and ski season on the slopes.

Or, as Steve Delaney reports in this part of our series on the top stories of 2007, sometimes Mother Nature just gets cranky.

(Delaney) The ski industry’s year started off bleak. At Okemo, for example, skier visits were down by 35% in the middle of January. Then came Valentine’s Day.

It snowed more than two feet in some areas. All the schools closed, and a lot of businesses did, too. Amtrak suspended service to Vermont, and there were few flights from the Burlington airport.

"674? Larry, this is 664…Go Ahead, Burt… There’s a Suburban stuck right in the snowbank. Probably needs a wrecker…OK, I’ll let somebody know, thanks.”

(Delaney) Kerry Sleeper was then Vermont’s public safety commissioner.

(Sleeper) "The good news is that we’ve seen this coming for a couple of days. People appear to have listened very carefully and recognized the potential dangers of traveling on the highways, that traffic volume is down significantly"’

(Delaney) The state police put investigators back in uniform, and had an extra 30 or 40 troopers on the roads during the storm.

By the next day, Governor Jim Douglas was reporting that some of the worst damage was in rural areas.

(Douglas) "Unfortunately, there are several barns that have collapsed. ….There have been some casualties among farm animals, a few dozen injuries and fatalities of cows."

(Delaney) Meanwhile, on the ski slopes, there were cheers, because the snow meant a chance to salvage the season. Here’s Killington’s Tom Horrock.

(Horrock) "There was a lot of whooping and hollering on Monday when we saw this storm coming together, and then it went to a louder uproar on Tuesday. And then this morning – I don’t think there’s anyone in the administration building. I think everyone’s getting out and making some turns.”

(Delaney) There was no silver lining two months later, when an intense rain and snow storm slashed across Vermont under high winds, cutting power to 40,000 customers, half of them in the hard-hit Rutland area.

Mark Bosma spoke for Vermont Emergency Management. He said on the day of the storm, a Monday, that the combination of hundreds of fallen trees and downed power lines would make it a long recovery for those affected.

(Bosma) "I think it’s a relative certainty that people will be without power until at least Thursday, maybe into Friday or Saturday. I mean, that sort of illustrates the scope of this and the severity of it, and the power crews are doing all they can.”

(Delaney) In fact, it would take until Friday to get all the power restored, after what CVPS called one of the ten worst storms ever in Vermont.

Montpelier has been super-sensitive to flooding ever since an ice jam 15 years ago sent water from the Winooski River surging into the downtown area.

In early March another ice jam developed, and the Capitol City worked frantically to avoid a second flood, and this time those measures worked.

Commentator Tom Slayton told the story.

(Slayton) "Within a few days, the sandbags were gone, snow was rapidly disappearing and Montpelier looked pretty much like any other Vermont town in April – a bit grimy and winter-weary, but ready for spring."

(Delaney) About every other year, the weather deals Vermont agriculture a blow of some kind, either flooding, drought or unseasonable temperatures.

This year, the problem was not nature, but Congress. And the winds blowing out of Washington were bitter. The big farm bill got stalled in a debate over the competing demands for subsidies and for conservation. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy thought that was an unnecessary fight.

(Leahy) "It’s no either-or. We have conservation programs. And we can have commodity programs. It’s just that one cannot wipe out the other.”

(Delaney) In the end they wiped out each other, and away went the $8 million in federal farm aid that Vermont farmers could have received if the conservation funding had remained in place.

And in December a clutch of Senate Republicans dropped their delays on the farm bill. But President Bush has threatened a veto, leaving uncertain the future of the milk price support program that has benefited Vermont farmers.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Delaney.

Note: Our series on the top news of 2007 continues next week. On Wednesday, we take a look at the political stories of the year.

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