By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY December 27, 2002 Folks in Sullivan County may think twice about dreaming of a white Christmas next year.
Irving Berlins classic holiday tune came to life Wednesday as the fluffy white stuff fell in record amounts, blanketing the county in anywhere from 18 inches to 2 feet of a snow and sleet mixture.
With most residents staying home to open presents and carve the Christmas turkey, the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department and NYS Police both reported a rather quiet day.
There were a couple of cars off the road, but nothing major, said Sheriffs Department dispatcher.
Local clergy saw an unusually low turnout for midnight and Christmas day services as most parishioners showed up to early Christmas Eve masses or not at all.
And supermarket clerks witnessed as many folks coming in Tuesday for extra gallons of water and matches as the last few fixings for the holiday meal.
Even the Luminaria, usually lit on a hundred miles of county roadways by late Christmas Eve, were noticeably vacant many groups canceled the project so the jugs of candles wouldnt be knocked into the fields by the plows coming through town early in the morning.
But town and county highway crews really had their work cut out for them. Bill Eschenberg, superintendent of highways in the Town of Delaware said the storm was just like any other, but by quitting time Thursday he had 36 straight hours in at the town barn.
Im a little tired, he said, especially after his plow truck came to a halt on the hill near Fosterdale, as the storm ravaged the countryside.
The truck, he said yesterday, should be fixed in no time, but it did put the town a little bit behind.
But the [town] guys did a really good job, he added. They really care about the public and the community, and they gave up part of their holiday to make sure everyone else got home safe and sound.
Pete Lilholt, commissioner of Public Works for the county, said the most challenging part of the day was rotating shifts so the workmen could spend at least part of the holiday with their families.
The drivers whose children are grown manned the morning hours so those with young children could stay at home in the morning and watch the youngsters open their gifts from Santa. They then traded off for the afternoon and evening shifts.
Its a drain on the family, but thats our line of work, Lilholt said. Weve been lucky the last five to 10 years; I cant remember having to work on Christmas.
But the weather prediction was accurate, he said, and there was plenty of salt and sand on hand to cover all of the countys roads.
We had some minor breakdowns, he said. The biggest thing you worry about is losing a truck to a major mechanical breakdown because then you get behind.
Once you get a truck to pull you out, you might have six more inches of snow on the ground, Lilholt continued.
But with the countys backup trucks at the ready, there was nothing for Lilholts crew to worry about.
The thrust of the storm seems to have hit in the Town of Fremont where Supervisor Jim Greier had to declare a state of emergency, shutting down all roads and banning travel for the day.
We have some roads you just cant keep open because of the drifts, Greier explained. Youd have to go out every half hour and clear them again.
The county roads running through Fremont were open, he said, but the state of emergency could not be lifted until all town roads were under control.
Members of the towns highway department were busy yesterday, out cleaning the roads and unable to answer the phones, but Lilholt said some of Fremonts trucks suffered breakdowns and others got stuck in the heavy snowdrifts.
Weve always adverse to declare that on the county level, because it destroys the business community, he explained, but I spoke with Jim Greier last night and he had to call 911 and all the emergency workers and announce it to the radio stations and newspapers.
According to all highway superintendents, this years white Christmas might be the biggest on record. There have been much larger storms over the years, Lilholt said, but never on the holiday itself.
It was a little whiter than most, Eschenberg said with a laugh.