On Tuesday, May 15, severe thunderstorms swept through Dutchess, Ulster, and Putnam counties, with winds exceeding 60 miles per hour, accompanied by heavy rain and hail. Between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. the nearby towns of Saugerties, Newburgh, Kent, and Patterson were all struck by four separate tornados, each bringing wind speeds of over 100 miles per hour. The resulting devastation to trees, electrical poles, and wire left more than 25,000 residents of Dutchess and Ulster Counties without power, and many roads were impassable. In Pawling, local officials and representatives from NYSEG were quick to take action, ensuring that the area would safe and functional again as soon as possible.
As the storm ravaged the surrounding area, the Pawling Central School District was in the midst of their budget vote and Board of Education election. In the early evening hours, the polling site at Pawling Elementary School lost power, necessitating the use of generators for electricity. In the Village of Pawling, power remained on for the businesses on Colman Blvd. The Pawling Family Quick Stop on West Main Street saw a deluge of customers seeking gasoline after the brunt of the storm had passed. More than a dozen town and county roads were blocked because of fallen trees and downed power lines, including sections of Quaker Hill and West Dover Road, and more than 1,000 residents from Pawling and Holmes were left without power.
Members of the Pawling Fire Department responded to more than a dozen calls for assistance during the storm and the resulting damage, including multiple reports of downed trees and power lines. “We had guys up on Quaker Hill trying to clear the roads, just so people could get home, and we could get our equipment up there,” explained Chief Everett White. “Our core group of guys pulled together. They took time away from their own homes to make sure that the community was taken care of.”
On the morning of May 16, officials were hard at work trying to restore power and clearing roadways for the community. NYSEG dispatched ten trucks to Pawling, and teams from the Dutchess County Public Works Department and the Pawling Highway Department began the process of clearing trees and debris from local roadways. At the Pawling Fire House on South Street, PFD members opened the station for residents to charge electrical devices. The Town Buildings and Grounds Department also assisted in delivering dry ice and bottles water for the fire department to anyone in need.
As power was gradually restored throughout the week, officials used the Town of Pawling Facebook page to provide updates to residents about conversations with NYSEG and the progress of electricity being restored. Councilman Phil DeRosa expressed his appreciation for the Town’s excellent communication during the trying week, especially praising the efforts of Supervisor James Schmitt and Legislative Aide Jessica Peterson. “I give a lot of credit to Jess and to our Supervisor,” said DeRosa. “They both put in a lot of time and effort to keep everyone informed of what was going on.”
Supervisor Schmitt later spoke on the importance of communication during times of crisis, particularly the use of social media as a tool to keep the public informed. “It was nice to see this platform being used,” he said. “With Facebook, we could make a post, and it allowed us to communicate with everyone. Jess responded to everyone who reached out, and we got a lot of positive feedback.”
By the evening of Friday, May 18, NYSEG estimated that 90% of area power had been restored. However, roughly 500 residents of Pawling and Holmes were still without electricity as of Saturday night. It would take the remainder of the weekend before NYSEG and Town officials could report that nearly all service was completely restored.
Although Pawling may not have received damage as extensive as surrounding areas, the thunderstorms and ensuing power outages still caused hardships for local residents. Fortunately, through cooperation between several departments, residents were able to endure and return to a sense of normalcy. “The response times from everyone were great – the Highway Department, Buildings and Grounds, the NYSEG crews,” said Schmitt. “They got working on everything very quickly, which was good to see.”