Early Morning Temperature Drop Creates Treacherous Commute
Freezing rain conditions on January 5 created dangerous morning travel conditions contributing to multiple crashes on Newtown’s roadways. The icing also caused some slips and falls, prompting a few people to be taken to the hospital.
The icing occurred because of a quick drop in temperatures during the early hours of Wednesday. Wunderground’s Danbury Weather History map showed a drop from 29 degrees F at 1:53 am to 24 degrees two hours later.
A similar Weather Map connected to a station near the center of Newtown showed it was already 24 degrees in town at midnight. Temperatures then hovered between 23-25 degrees for the next few hours.
Public Works General Supervisor Anthony Capozziello told The Newtown Bee later Wednesday, “a small crew came in for 4 am, which we had planned for.”
Then the rain started. At those temperatures, said Capozziello, “it led to the mess on the roads.
“It was pure rain, no mix, and it was 24 degrees out — that’s why it froze so suddenly,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what you’re driving then,” Capozziello continued. “Whether you have four-wheel drive, 10-wheel drive, whatever, with ice you’re just sliding. There’s no control once you start sliding.”
Town trucks put down a mix of salt and sand on Wednesday, he said.
The Newtown Wunderground weather station reached 32 degrees between 9 and 10 am, approximately two-and-a-half hours after Newtown Emergency Communications Center began receiving many calls from drivers reporting crashes.
Two crashes on South Main Street added to travel challenges for morning commuters.
The first occurred around 6:30 am near Greenbriar, when an oil delivery truck reportedly crashed into a utility pole there. Additional passenger vehicles also collided there because of the road conditions. Two utility poles and attached wires were damaged, and the road was closed for at least 15 hours while crews replaced the poles and reconnected service wires.
A short time later, a delivery van crashed into a pole near Button Shop Road. The driver reportedly suffered injuries to their hand and ankle. That crash closed one travel lane.
Multiple minor crashes were also reported across town Wednesday morning. On Old Bridge Road, the driver of a Honda CRV lost control of that vehicle on the ice and it rolled over onto its side. She initially reported no injuries, but was later taken to the hospital to be evaluated.
Meanwhile, I-84 West was closed by CT DOT between Exits 14 and 11 for a few hours. Large pockets of the eastbound side of the highway were also impassible for hours.
Road Crews, First Responders
Even Town trucks were not immune to the conditions. Many drivers had a difficult time keeping up with the demand for the salt-sand mix at multiple locations across town. One truck slid off Lakeview Terrace near Lakeview Terrace Extension, and another crashed into a utility pole on Plumtrees Road.
Neither driver was injured, but both needed to wait for help before they could move their vehicles again. Two additional town trucks reportedly slid off roads during the morning storm.
Capozziello and Fleet Facility Manager Tim Whelan were on their way to Plumtrees Road to recover one of those vehicles when they spoke with The Bee on Wednesday.
“We had a couple of tow jobs today, but they’re all out,” Whelan said. “We’re going after the last truck now. Eversource is out there, and they’re going to replace that pole, and they’re ready for us to get the truck out of there.
“Everything’s being repaired in-house and will be ready for Friday’s predicted snow fall,” Whelan added.
First responders were also hampered in their efforts to respond to calls for help. One Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps crew, trying to respond to one of the calls on South Main Street, had difficulty navigating Wasserman Way.
When they were forced to reverse direction and head toward Toddy Hill Road to get to the crash near Button Shop, they were then caught in a traffic jam near Quarry Ridge, where multiple vehicles were also stuck at the bottom of a steep incline there.
For another call, firefighters and ambulance personnel were forced to park their vehicles just in from Wasserman on the I-84 Exit 11 on-ramp and then walk to a minor crash before they could check on a patient there. This was after the two teams of first responders had to reverse course from the Exit 10 on-ramp.
So many vehicles were reportedly stuck or involved in crashes that the engine and ambulance could not access the highway. The two vehicles were forced to turn around, travel down Church Hill, to Berkshire, and then Wasserman, where they then accessed Exit 11 on-ramp and began the walk to their patient.
Newtown Public Schools first announced a two-hour delayed opening for Wednesday, but later updated that to a full closure for the day. Newtown Municipal Center had a one-hour delayed opening.
Drivers began to cautiously head out by midday, once temperatures rose and the salt-sand mixture laid down by town and state trucks had time to work.
As Whelan had hinted at, however, drivers may be in for another tough drive Friday morning. As of Wednesday, the National Weather Service was predicting snow to hit the area between 1 and 10 am. While the precipitation is not expected to amount to more than a few inches, it could nevertheless mean the second difficult morning commute in just a few days.
Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.