Freak snowfall turned rivals into teams

ERIC ANDERSON Deputy business editor
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B3

Date: Monday, October 2, 2006

The forecast called for cool, sunny skies after some early-morning rain. Instead, Capital Region residents awoke the morning of Oct. 4, 1987, to what looked like the depths of winter.

An intense cold front, forecasters would say later, moved into the area, turning heavy rain to heavy snow. Five days earlier, it had been 80.

By 9 a.m., tree limbs were falling under the heavy wet snow that clung to leaves, sounding like rifle shots as they snapped. Lights went out, and furnaces stopped as the limbs pulled down power lines. Many residents wouldn't see their lights back on for another 10 days.

The Capital Newspapers building in Colonie - housing the morning Times Union and the afternoon Knickerbocker News - was among those to lose power. Managers made calls on the few phones that worked to find a new place to publish.

Kathy Condon, newly named executive editor at The Times Record in Troy - now The Record - remembers how the rain had seemed almost like liquid mercury as it fell late Saturday night.

"I remember it was total chaos," she said last week from her office at Condon Communications. "We called in everyone we could."

But that Sunday would be a lot more than just a busy news day for Condon.

It was Condon who fielded the Capital Newspapers' call for help. Power was on at The Record in downtown Troy. Condon said Publisher Robert Wahl told her to do whatever was needed.

The storm had caused phone outages. Condon depended on the photography staff's hand-held radios to patch through a call from the Albany newspapers to Wahl, whose home phone and power also were out.

Soon, staffers from all three newspapers were gathering in the newsroom at Fifth Avenue and Broadway in Troy after making their way through slushy snow and streets blocked by fallen branches and power lines.

It was decided to print a joint edition of the Times Union and Knickerbocker News, to be followed by the Troy Record, which at that time was an afternoon newspaper. "There were lots of decisions having to be made," recalls Bill Dowd, then the Knickerbocker News' managing editor, and now the Times Union's associate editor. "What is the basic newspaper? ... Do we need anything for sports? Do we need an editorial page? What about wire news?"

The rival newsrooms from Albany worked smoothly together.

"What surprised me most was there was not a lot of posturing and territorialism," Dowd said.

Having Condon at The Record helped, he added. She had been executive city editor at the Knickerbocker News before going to Troy, and knew the Albany staff and the computer systems, so she could give them a quick lesson in The Record's computers.

Still, it was a challenge. Times Union Editor Harry Rosenfeld likened using the strange computers to trying to write in Latin when all you know is English.

The blocked roads made it difficult to grasp just how much damage had been done. Snow stopped falling by early afternoon, after 6 inches had piled up at Albany County Airport and up to 19 inches had fallen in the Catskills and in higher elevations east of the Hudson River.

Niagara Mohawk crews came from central and western New York. The utility also called on other utilities from New Jersey, New England and Canada.

Back at the newspaper, Record and Capital Newspapers reporters and photographers were scrambling to cover the big story. In this era before digital photography, they all had to share The Record's darkroom.

Early Monday morning, a joint edition of the Times Union and Knickerbocker News rolled over The Record's new color presses, followed a few hours later by The Record.

Not every paper was delivered. Many roads were still blocked. The state Department of Transportation hadn't yet added snowplows and salters to many of its trucks.

But temperatures warmed, and the snow melted in days.

The storm killed at least five people. Three died in traffic accidents. One suffered a heart attack while shoveling, and one was crushed by a falling tree.

NiMo spent $19 million in repairs following the storm. Nearly 250,000 customers had lost power and it was nearly two weeks before electricity was fully restored.