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Memories that never melt away March 3, 2011

Posted by paulstella in Uncategorized.

I first noticed the sounds of branches snapping just before midnight. Didn’t think much of it at first, but within hours its frequency and intensity increased. Finally I felt compelled to get out of bed and look outside only to find that Rochester’s ice storm of 1991 was underway.

This dates back to my days as a TV news producer at 13WHAM-TV, known back then as WOKR. It wasn’t hard to predict the storm’s impact on my upcoming workday and, since ‘adrenalin junkie’ is part of a producer’s job description, I knew sleep was formally out of the question.

I soon decided to call a coworker, the morning news anchor who lived just blocks from me on the city ‘s east side.

“Are you seeing what’s going on out there?” I asked.

She hadn’t. A sound sleeper, her schedule as morning anchor required an early bedtime, several hours before the storm got underway. “Let’s go in to work together,” I said. “I’m coming to get you.”

I’ve never personally witnessed combat, but I dare say the city was quickly beginning to resemble a war zone—a ‘cold war’ of sorts. Many ice-covered traffic lights were already disabled and entire tree limbs were blocking some residential streets. Occasionally, on our way to the station, we’d drive upon sidewalks to make our way through. Looking back I wonder what in the hell we were thinking. I shudder now to consider the ill-timed possibility of a huge limbs falling atop my tiny Plymouth Sundance. But somehow we made our way safely.

Power outages were widespread, and Rochester’s ABC affiliate was not immune. A handful of the station’s engineers were able to muster enough power to activate a few lights and one studio camera, in addition to transmitting something resembling a signal. There were no fancy graphics and no videotape that morning, just anecdotal evidence of the storm’s magnitude relayed to us by phone. It was all very primitive by modern newsgathering standards, but no less rewarding for those of us privileged to make it happen.

Eventually the station powered up and staff trickled in, and together we would begin the process of documenting one of the biggest stories in Rochester’s history. Statistics I recall include more than 300,000 customers without power, some for weeks, and about one-third of the region’s greenery destroyed.

I recall participating in the coverage of many amazing stories during my years in TV, but I doubt any rose to the level of impact as the one that began 20 years ago today.



1. John Robinson - March 5, 2011

That’s a memory for me too. Working at Prudential in claims and handling all of those ice claims. Coming to Penfield to inspect damages. Marie Freitas'(Fisher friend) house burned down because they tried to use the fire place for heat and had it not been used in years. WOW, makes this winter seem not so bad.

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