Springfield College students who were decked out in an array of various costumes experienced a bone-chilling twist this past Saturday, just two days before Halloween, when they ventured outside the comfort of their residence halls. Instead of being greeted by ordinary fall weather, students encountered a wall of snow in their paths.
The uncommon weather made it feel more like Christmas in October than Halloween. Students walking across campus may have felt a few fleeting minutes of discomfort, but for commuters and professors in the surrounding areas, the discomfort would prove to be much longer lasting.
The October 29th Nor’easter, Winter Storm Alfred, crippled multiple communities in Western Massachusetts, knocking out power and leaving many without electricity or heat. According to MassLive, over a foot of snow accumulated in Springfield during the course of the storm, which lasted from Saturday into Sunday morning.
Junior Frank Barbuti, who lives in neighboring Longmeadow, immediately felt the crippling effects of the unusually early snowstorm.
Barbuti said that he had been raking leaves earlier in the day Saturday before the snow began to fall. Before long, he was forced to exchange his rake for a shovel. Barbuti recalled losing power at approximately 5 p.m., but it was not until after he went to sleep that the real destruction began.
“About two in the morning, I heard [what sounded] like a bomb went off,” Barbuti said. “A tree smashed into my neighbor’s deck, destroying it. For the rest of the night, you heard limbs smashing into the ground, breaking, and when I woke up, outside I saw chaos.”
The chaos that Barbuti witnessed included downed trees and branches littering his backyard, some of which damaged their fence and his mother’s car’s windshield. Since most trees still have leaves, the snow accumulated on them, ultimately proving to be too much for branches and entire trees to handle.
Springfield College’s campus also felt the effects from the Nor’easter. Trees littered the ground, damaging other property in the process, such as a light post on the walkway between Cheney Hall and the Richard B. Flynn Campus Union.
The Nor’easter did more than just physically damage property, however. It limited and prolonged travel in the following days, making driving anywhere a potential danger. According to Barbuti, his commute normally takes him around 10 minutes depending on traffic, but due to the damage caused by the storm, his trip nearly tripled in length on Monday, Oct. 31. Finding gas was also a hassle, because most gas stations were without power as well.
“My whole town has no power except for the Dunkin’ Donuts and the Shell station,” Barbuti said.
Professor Robert Hewes, a resident of Three Rivers, also had a hard time due to gas, but not because he could not find a station. Instead, Hewes had his commute to SC prolonged due to excessively long lines for the gas stations near Western New England University clogging up traffic. His normal trip of 25-30 minutes was extended to around 50-60 minutes on Monday. Many roads were still littered with debris from Saturday, including some dangerous hazards.
“In a couple places, your car was only four feet away from a power line that was draped [on the road],” Hewes said.
Like Barbuti and many other residents in Western Massachusetts, Hewes and his family were without power after the storm hit. Despite suffering this setback, he said his family worked on learning to be content.
“We had no way of heating up food, but God really provided,” Hewes said.
According to Hewes, his family had made a huge pot of chili for their Sunday Bible Study, but when it was cancelled due to the snow, they had a convenient source of food for two days while they scrambled to obtain necessary supplies, such as propane.
Barbuti and Hewes and his family were among the multitude who had to cope with no power, which forced them to adjust their daily lifestyle. Barbuti had to cope with not being able to charge his cell phone and using a light to read for class.
Hewes’ major concern was about keeping his kids warm.
“My wife is literally driving them to places where they can just find warmth,” Hewes said.
Despite the negative effects of the storm, Hewes and his family were able to take away some positive experiences. Hewes had his family with him on campus for a portion of Tuesday to soak up the heat and enjoy some family time.
“Having dinner at Cheney for the kids is a blast,” Hewes said. “They can eat all they want and go get a twist of ice cream at the end.
“Kids are so resilient. This is just a big playtime for them and mystery and fun at every corner,” he added. “It’s the adults who feel the cold a little bit more than them.”
Not to be forgotten, East Campus was hit just as hard by the storm. Dave Burckhard, a first-year graduate student, visited East Campus after talking with Angela Veatch, the assistant director of East Campus and Outdoor Programs, who told him about the extensive damage East Campus suffered.
“From the Child Development Center where the wall is on the ropes course, you can see Reeds Landing, which I don’t think you could have seen before,” Burckhard said, referring to the downed trees that now no longer block the view.
The entrance to East Campus was also blocked.
When the campus was hit by the tornado over the summer, Burckhard, along with fellow graduate student Josh Schupack, acted as liaisons by sending out Facebook messages to inform people of when and where to go to help in the clean-up efforts.
After talking with Veatch, Burckhard promoted a clean-up effort at East Campus via Facebook.
Despite the damage and state of emergency that was issued by Governor Deval L. Patrick on Oct. 30, Springfield College decided to remain open and have classes on Monday despite public schools in the area being closed for the week and other colleges, like WNEU and American International College, cancelling classes.
The difference was that SC retained power in all but a few buildings, while most of the other surrounding schools and colleges did not.
“If we have power and we’ve got all of the students on campus, you do understand that we’re called to do a job,” Hewes said in reference to his job as a professor. “That’s the response we should have.”
Barbuti had mixed feelings on the decision.
“At first I was very upset,” Barbuti said. “But honestly, if you really think of it, the school opening might have been a blessing in disguise because otherwise I’d be at home with no heat all day.”
Many commuters and professors could be seen in Cheney with their families or around campus, using the facilities to grab a bite to eat, check their emails or simply enjoy the heat. Power is expected to return to various communities throughout the next week, and clean-up efforts are ongoing both on the main campus and at East Campus.
Joe Brown may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org