A beautiful misery: 10 years ago today, New Hampshire froze over

  • Ice coats trees along the Contoocook River and the Henniker Bridg; Friday Dec. 12, 2008. (Monitor photo/Alexander Cohn) Alexander Cohn—

  • Ian Hancock of Hopkinton walks toward damaged utility lines on Hatfield Road on Dec. 12, 2008. ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor file

  • Unitil worker Don Stone tries to repair the main circuit power lines on Bow Center Road in 2008.

  • A down power line forces traffic to find an alternate route on Bow Center Road in front of the Bow Town Hall in Bow after Ice Storms came through the night on Friday Dec. 12, 2008. (Concord Monitor photo/William DeShazer) William DeShazer—Concord Monitor

  • Ice-covered trees blanket the landscape in Bow after an ice storm hit the region the night of Dec. 12, 2008. William DeShazer photos / Monitor file

  • Cheryl Caldwell embraces her friend's niece, Becca Konieczki, 15, at emergency shelter set up at Community School in Henniker on Saturday. Caldwell, a resident of Rush Square in Henniker, spent Friday night at the school after a visit to the hospital for troubled breathing. Konieczki, who arrived at the shelter on Saturday afternoon, was upset because her aunt, Carol Pike, was also having trouble breathing and had just received medical attention at the shelter. Shortly after, Konieczki and her aunt returned home. (Concord Monitor photo/Veronica Wilson) Veronica Wilson—AP

  • Beverly Pappas, of Bow, tries to clear away low hanging branches from her driveway so she could leave her home on Saturday Dec. 13, 2008. Pappas lost her power around 3:00am Friday morning. "I was terrified cause limbs were breaking everywhere," Pappas said. (Concord Monitor photo/William DeShazer) William DeShazer—Concord Monitor

Monitor columnist
Published: 12/10/2018 6:02:16 PM

One word neatly summed up
what many of us heard 10 years ago today.

CRACK!

“These were not twigs cracking,” noted Steve Burritt of Henniker. “These were big branches. My neighborhood was full of big, old pine trees and they were falling apart by the numbers.”

Burritt saw the ice storm of Dec. 11-12, 2008, up close and personally. He was the deputy adjunct commander of the Army National Guard, sent to fight an enemy that finally retreated, but only on its own terms.

No one remembers a storm quite like this one. It crossed the northeast, from Maine to Pennsylvania, and guess who got hit hardest over that section of the United States?

“We had our fair share,” Burritt told me. “I do have a huge recollection of that ice storm.”

Then Burritt chuckled softly, one of those chuckles created by awe, one that follows a thought that greatly and obviously understates the magnitude of an event.

Our fair share?

We got clobbered.

More than 400,000 power outages crippled New Hampshire, with most of the damage centered over the bottom third of the state.

It started around breakfast time on the 11th and in fact took on the qualities of two of my favorites cereals, on steroids: the snap, crackle and pop of Rice Krispies and the crunchy glaze-covering feature in Frosted Flakes.

The freezing rain latched onto tree branches and power lines, freezing in an instant, and the ice pellets bounced off the ground as though they were ping-pong balls on the loose.

The result gave us sheer, unique beauty, walking hand in hand with sheer, unique misery. Trees bent, branches broke, power lines fell and electricity vanished. In some cases, for weeks.

“I recall going down south of (Route) 101 into New Ipswich,” Burritt said. “The public works crews had cut off broken trees and I was just looking at the butt ends of trees and they were like 10 or 20 feet in the air. It felt like I was driving through a tunnel. Spooky.”

At the time, Burritt doubled as the Henniker Fire Department’s deputy fire chief. He remembered trying to sleep that first night, kept awake by the cracking of branches outside his home and the thud of them landing.

He grabbed his National Guard gear, his shaving kit and an extra pair of clothing. He told his wife he might not be home for a while.

He was right.

“I was looking around,” Burritt said, “and I thought, this is probably going to turn into something.”

It turned into a nightmare for Sarena Preve, then of Northwood, who was nine months pregnant at the time and whose daughter, the now 10-year-old Isabelle, was anxious to join the world. Her husband, Jason Ernst, drove to Concord Hospital in the wee hours, swerving and dodging and bringing a new meaning to a white-knuckled journey.

“I remember having to drive around downed trees and power lines,” Preve said.

Carol Pike and her great niece, Becca Konieczki, a 15-year-old freshman at John Stark Regional High School at the time, rushed over to the Community School in Henniker, a makeshift rescue center. There were cots. There was warmth. There was food.

“We lost power and we had no heat or anything here,” recalled Pike. “We went to the school and they gave us food to eat. I had soup and a warm drink because I was so cold. We went three days without power.”

“A lot of wires out front from the house to the road were aiming pretty far down toward the ground,” said Konieczki, 25. “The science teacher was talking about it and said it was the worst storm that had been around in a while.”

Don Nourse, a field supervisor for Public Service of New Hampshire at the time, confirmed what Konieczki’s science teacher had said, writing in a statement, “During my 31-year career with PSNH, the ice storm of 2008 remains the most devastating storm we have faced.”

Like Burritt, Nourse mentioned the “ominous sound of the cracking tree branches reverberating through my backyard in Wilton.”

Beverly Pappas of Concord lived in Bow at the time and pulled loose branches off trees and hauled them off her driveway so she could get her car out.

“There were broken branches everywhere,” Pappas said.

Then-governor John Lynch declared a state of emergency. Crews were clearing debris and reconnecting power lines for weeks.

And before the cleanup was finished, it snowed.

“We had a foot of snow on top of the ice,” Burritt said. “It made for some tough working conditions.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com.)




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