Snow blowers whirred and shovels scraped across sidewalks as the Northeast tried to keep up with a winter storm that swirled up the coast, creating blizzard conditions on Cape Cod, disrupting government work in Washington and leaving behind it bitter Canadian cold that sapped fuel supplies.
The National Weather Service predicted lows around 4 degrees tonight in Westerly, with wind chill values as low as -5; highs on Thursday should approach 19 degrees, with the wind chill as low as -3.
The huge storm stretched from Kentucky to New England but hit hardest along the heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor between Philadelphia and Boston. Snow began falling midmorning Tuesday in Philadelphia and had dumped as much as 13.5 inches by midnight, with New York seeing almost as much. Manalapan, N.J., had the highest snowfall reading with 16 inches.
Many schools in Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut were closed today, including public schools in Westerly, Chariho and Stonington.
Nearly two dozen flights were canceled at T.F. Green Airport as the state worked to dig out of up to 11 inches of snow. Bradley International Airport north of Hartford reported nearly two dozen cancelled departing flights this morning.
T.F. Green officials were urging travelers to check with their airlines. Nearly all morning departing flights have been cancelled, while afternoon departures were still listed as on time. Only a few arriving flights have been canceled.
Snow crews were out in force Tuesday night into this morning.
In Westerly, 30 employees and 26 plows, pickup trucks, and other snow removal devices were making the rounds on the town’s 720 roads Tuesday night.
“It’s difficult for the guys to keep up but they’ll be doing their best,” Town Manager Michelle Buck said, adding that the wind, an element of this latest storm, posed a challenge as it was sweeping snow back onto freshly plowed roadways.
The duration of the storm, expected to push into mid-morning, was also a challenge, Buck said.
A primary focus is to keep roads clear enough for emergency vehicles to pass, Buck said.
Town crews started their work Tuesday morning by pre-treating roads. When the storm started the town had spent $150,000 of the $211,350 alloted in the municipal budget for snow removal. The budgeted amount is intended to cover the cost of sand, salt, fuel and overtime costs.
Buck received word at about 8 p.m., with about 4 inches of snow already on the ground, that the town’s schools would be closed today.
Stonington was faring well in the storm Tuesday evening, said First Selectman Edward Haberek Jr.
“We’re doing OK,” he said. “We’ve got the plows out.”
The town’s entire contingent of 19 plows was working Tuesday night.
At 7:30 p.m. he was still driving around, said Haberek, who described the roads, even the state roads, as still passable at that time.
It’s too soon to know what this storm will cost Stonington’s taxpayers, but Haberek said $120,000 had been budgeted for snow removal for the season. Before the first flake fell, $89,000 remained in the account.
“It kind of depends on the duration of the storm,” said Haberek.
There were scattered accidents throughout the afternoon and evening, including a five-car accident on Interstate 95 between exits 91 and 92.
“We’ll see what morning brings,” Haberek said.
In North Stonington, trucks were dispatched at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, just before the snowfall began in earnest. The public works garage had a small staff on hand, communicating with the trucks and making last-minute minor repairs. Even Director Stephen Holliday was on the road.
“We’re well prepared,” said First Selectman Nicholas Mullane. “We have an experienced public works department and a cooperative union. The crew works hard.”
Mullane points to last year’s blizzard, called Nemo by The Weather Channel, as an example of their ability. The National Weather Service does not name storms.
“On that Sunday morning, everyone woke up and our roads were clear,” he said. “I called up the school superintendent and said the schools would be ready for the next day.”
With a staff of 13 people, the department covers the 55 square mile town, plowing 65 miles of roads, five of them unpaved. They also maintain the parking lots for the schools, town buildings and fire departments.
“The dirt roads are tough,” Mullane said. “When you try to sand and plow a dirt road, the only thing you get is ice.”
The town is well-equipped to keep the roads clear. The Department of Public Works on Wyassup Road is home to a fleet of vehicles, including seven full-size plows and three Ford F-350 trucks with plows attached. There are also two large bucket loaders that can be fitted with 11-foot plows.
“The smaller plows are used for subdivisions such as Cedar Road,” Mullane said.
He also takes pride in the town’s proactive maintenance schedule for the fleet. Each truck is tended to on a rotating basis, with the vehicles stripped clean and repaired before salt corrosion can begin. “The salt can eat away the underside very quickly, so we take good care of the equipment,” he said. “That’s when the new wash station will come in handy.”
As for salt consumption, the town uses some in a combination with sand, the amount varying with the expected outside temperature; the colder the weather, the more salt content.
According to Mullane, the town’s budget for snow is measured by the amount of man hours reserved each year. In very simplistic terms, the town budgets about 320 hours per person per year for snow removal. The time can be consumed quickly if the crew works overtime on evenings or weekends. Time not used equals money unspent. “We usually return money to the budget,” Mullane said
In Charlestown, Town Administrator Mark S. Stankiewicz said the town was as prepared as it could be for the storm, but he warned Tuesday night that a lot depended on how severe the storm was and how long it lasted.
“Duration. That’s always a big one. The amount of snowfall and duration,” he said. “The faster the snow falls, the tougher it is to keep the roads clear. There comes a point where if it snows hard enough, we just can’t keep up with it. The longer the duration, the more tired our personnel get. To stay on the road for 14, 16 hours and be effective, it’s difficult.”
Charlestown has 10 snowplows, all of them deployed for this storm. The town does not use outside contractors. Stankiewicz said the town does not have a separate snow clearing budget. Those costs are included in the town’s budget for wages and materials.
“We figure that this snowstorm is probably going to run around $15,000 for about a 12-hour storm, between overtime materials. It’s about evenly split, probably about $7,500 in overtime and about $7,500 in materials, roughly,” he said.
In Hopkinton, all of the town’s nine snowplows were deployed for the storm. Hopkinton does not hire outside contractors.
Town Manager William McGarry said he couldn’t predict how much the storm would end up costing the town.
“It really depends on the duration and severity of the storm, how long people are going to stay out there and how much sand and salt they’re going to use,” he said.
Hopkinton’s budget for salt and sand is $60,000, and the town has used less than a third of it.
“We’ve been through about $19,000,” McGarry said. “That’s just supplies.” McGarry explained, adding that to date, the town had spent about 40 percent of its yearly overtime budget.
“They’re just outstanding,” McGarry said of the town employees who clear Hopkinton’s roads. “I get no complaints about the condition of the roads after a storm.”
There are seven town snowplows in the town of Richmond, all of them deployed throughout Tuesday night into this morning. Town Administrator Robert Rock said the town calls in seven additional outside contractors if there are 4 inches or more of snow on the ground.
“We’re at full capacity for the night,” he said, referring to equipment and staff. “The overtime gets paid between 3:30 in the afternoon and 7 in the morning, so the overtime will depend on the snow,” he said.
Rock said he did not know how much this storm would end up costing the town.
“We do have a snow removal budget. It’s going to depend on how the storm goes forward. Of course, you’ve got the aftermath. It’s supposed to be cold the next couple of days,” he explained, adding that colder temperatures made it harder to keep the roads from becoming icy.”
Richmond’s annual snow removal budget is $88,000.
“You budget a certain amount of money and you have to hope that the snow is not going to cause us to go over that amount,” he said.
Staff writers Dale Faulkner, Leslie Rovetti, Michael Souza and Cynthia Drummond contributed to this report.