Ice storm in Norfolk December 29-31, 2019

By Russell Russ

During the final days of 2019, Norfolk experienced one of the most notable weather events of the entire year. With temperatures above freezing, rain began falling during the afternoon of December 29. The rain continued into the evening, but by early evening temperatures were hovering around 32 degrees. Freezing rain continued overnight into the next morning. At 8:00 am on December 30 a total of 0.96 inch of rainfall was recorded with an ice accretion of 0.15 inch. Temperatures continued to stay at or below freezing during the day on December 30 and the freezing rain with some sleet mixing in also continued throughout the day. At 3:00 pm, with sleet falling, a strong thunderstorm producing nickel to quarter sized hail was observed. Numerous lightning strikes, loud crashes of thunder and several minutes of large hail resembling large mothballs were observed. Another weaker thunderstorm brushed Norfolk at 4:45 pm, also while sleet was falling. Soon after the second round came through, the precipitation turned to light snow. By 8:00 pm when the snow stopped there was a little over an inch of snowfall. More freezing rain fell during the early hours of December 31, adding more ice on top of the heavy weight that was already hanging on trees and powerlines. At 8:00 am on December 31 a total of 0.63 inch of precipitation was measured, including 1.2 inches of snow and sleet. At this time there was an ice accretion of 0.3 inch. There were several power outages reported in town.

A storm total of 1.59 inches of precipitation, including 1.2 inches of snow and sleet was measured. The ice buildup on the trees was the big problem, but only in locations above about 1,200 feet in elevation. At lower elevations the temperatures stayed mostly above freezing during the entire storm. Making the situation worse for the trees was the fact that temperatures for the next few days never got much above freezing. Had there been high winds during the storm then the tree damage and power outages would have been much worse. At many locations the ice did not begin to come off the trees and powerlines until the afternoon of January 3. Based on observations and local input, most of the ice damage seemed to be centered in the higher elevations of Canaan, Norfolk, Winchester, Colebrook and Hartland.

Norfolk in the past has experienced more severe ice storms that have produced much more damage. What made this late December 2019 storm unusual was the very specific (higher) elevations it affected and of course the thunder and lightning and large hail which occurred while sleet was falling. One unfortunate casualty from the storm was one very old, very large sugar maple on the Norfolk Village Green. The old maple had been declining in recent years and the heavy ice buildup from this storm was just more than it could stand. A large portion of the tree fell onto the green, barely missing the soldier’s monument and the Town’s new Christmas tree. The old maple had to be completely removed.