WESTERLY — Most schools and town offices throughout the region were closed Wednesday in anticipation of the season’s fourth nor’easter, but the promised snow and strong winds didn’t materialize until late afternoon.
“We could see some gusts tonight up to 40, and maybe a little bit higher than 40 miles an hour,” National Weather Service meteorologist Eleanor Vallier-Talbot said.
The steadiest snow was expected through about midnight.
“Then the wind should start to fully diminish and then during the day Thursday, we could see some gusts up to 35 miles an hour, but I think that’s going to be mainly in the morning,” she said.
Throughout the day, there were periods of snow punctuated by stretches of ice pellets and rain. The mixed precipitation resulted in a downgrading of the amount of snow Southern Rhode Island was expected to receive from 7 inches to between 3 and 6 inches.
“Right over the border in New London might see a little bit more,” Vallier-Talbot said. “They might see 10 [inches] and a couple of spots might touch a foot.”
National Grid reactivated its three Rhode Island crew-staging areas, including the one at Ninigret park.
Spokesman Ted Kresse said the crews that had been in Rhode Island for the past three nor’easters had been released, but new crews had arrived to replace them.
“We’ve got nearly 200 line crews ready to go, which includes 130 external crews, folks coming from out of state; Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, New Brunswick, Canada,” he said.
While there had been only a handful of scattered outages by late afternoon, Kresse said the utility was prepared to repair any that might occur.
“At this point, there’s definitely some concerns with the heavy, wet snow that we’re seeing on the East Coast, and obviously the strong winds,” he said.
Expecting that the snow would begin Wednesday morning, most school districts in Rhode Island closed schools. In the end, the promised snow did not arrive until late afternoon.
Chariho Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said he had heeded the forecast and had acted accordingly.
“Schools in Chariho were closed today based upon a forecast which called for snow to start at 9 a.m.,” he said. “It was the right call based upon the forecast. That said, I wish that I had the wherewithal to see into the future, so that no further snow days are ever needlessly used.”
The winter-weary might want to know if a fifth nor’easter might be in their future. Vallier-Talbot said it was too soon to tell.
“What we’re seeing right now, it looks like we’re going to be pretty dry,” she said. “It looks like the storm track will be shifting out of the area at least right into the middle of next week. I’m seeing, generally, partly sunny conditions starting on Saturday, running right through until next Wednesday and temperatures running in the mid-40s, which is still a little bit below normal for this time of year, especially now that we’re past 12 hours of daylight. Happy spring, by the way.”
Plow drivers in Westerly started to pre-treat the town’s more than 165 miles of roads at around 4:30 p.m. and a parking ban went into effect at 9 p.m., said Paul Corina, director of public works and acting town manager.
In a message to district parents on Facebook, Westerly Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau said he regretted canceling school Wednesday given the change in the timing of the storm.
“The alternatives, however, were to wait until early this morning (for which we are routinely criticized), bring the students in and hope that we can get them home safely, consider an early dismissal, in which case we risk busing small children home to empty houses or potentially have our student drivers, buses and parents put in harm’s way at normal dismissal time.
“The final alternative may be that we close, the storm never materializes, and I look foolish …. I do the best I can to make the right call based on the best information available and above all, the safety of our students, staff and parents.
“If a mistake is made out of an over-abundance of caution, I kick myself, but know why it happened. And as I said, no matter what I did it would be the wrong call for someone. It always is. This one was the wrong call and I made it,” Garceau said.
The winter, especially the month of March, has delivered a strong blow to the town’s snow-removal accounts. Overall, including funds for post-storm cleanup performed on Jan. 9 and March 15, the snow accounts were overspent by $32,912 as of Tuesday.
As of about 5 p.m. Wednesday, the storm had manifested itself as mostly rain and snowflakes, and with temperatures at about 35 degrees, there was no accumulation.
George Brennan, director of emergency management for the town, said he and his staff would monitor the storm throughout the evening.
“Right now there’s not much going on, we’re just waiting to see how much this produces because there’s still people saying this could be mostly rain and slush, especially as close as we are to the coast,” he said late in the afternoon. “It’s just spitting snow and rain right now.”
He said no power outages had been reported.
Barbara McKrell, director of the Department of Public Works, said the highway crew had been dismissed at 3:30 but were on call should hazardous conditions develop.
“We all are home and are relying on the police department to make a determination on the road conditions and the need for us to come in,” she said around 5:15 p.m.
Police Capt. Todd Olson said there were a few accidents earlier in the afternoon but it had been quiet since then.
“We’re still waiting for the snow, if it every comes, and we’re ready for it if it does,” he said.
In North Stonington, too, the town was starting to see flakes fall late Wednesday afternoon and was preparing.
“We canceled the meeting and crews are ready to go as the weather intensifies,” First Selectman Mike Urgo said.
By late afternoon, light snow had begun to fall in Hopkinton, and town crews were standing by to deal with any snow that fell overnight. Hopkinton Town Manager William McGarry said no accidents or power outages had been reported.
“I just spoke with the police department,” he said around 5 p.m. “They said there had been no reported power outages, no poles down, no trees down, no accidents.”
Town offices closed at noon to allow employees plenty of time to get safely home.
Town offices in Richmond remained open throughout the day Wednesday. Town Administrator Karen Pinch said she had not heard of a single fallen tree or power outage.
“Not a word. All quiet,” she said about 5 p.m.
In Charlestown, the day’s precipitation was a “mixed bag,” Emergency Management Director Kevin Gallup said.
“We’ve had sleet, we’ve had snow and we’ve had rain,” he said. What the town hadn’t experienced as of 5:30 p.m. were any power outages.
“That's a good thing,” Gallup said, adding that National Grid was again ready to use Ninigret Park as a countywide staging area should crews need supplies to repair downed utility wires and poles.