WESTERLY — Snow, then rain, then freezing rain — with some snow mixed in — then more snow, ending with a flash freeze that will drive temperatures down into the single digits: National Weather Service meteorologist Alan Dunham said the first significant storm of the winter is likely to bring a bit of everything.
“What you’re looking at is for Saturday night, snow, rain and a chance of freezing rain, temperatures in the upper 20s, and some sleet probably in there, too. Right now, we’re looking at moderate snow accumulations. For Sunday, it’ll be over to rain, maybe mixed with a little snow and then freezing rain and sleet likely as cold air comes back in and a period of snow, before ending late Sunday afternoon,” he said.
When the storm pulls out, the area will be hit with a blast of very cold air.
“Sunday night, you go into the deep freeze,” Dunham said. “The night lows are 5 to 10, then Monday, the highs are only 10 to 15.”
The storm started sweeping across the Midwest on Friday as it inched its way toward New England, where it was forecast to dump up to 2 feet of snow in some areas. The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings, and at one point warned that conditions in New England over the weekend "could approach blizzard criteria." Ice was also a possibility in some areas in the storm's path.
Amtrak canceled some trains Saturday from Chicago to Washington and New York, and between New York and Boston and Pennsylvania on Sunday.
Most worrisome is the possibility of freezing rain and rain on top of wet snow, all of which will freeze solid as temperatures drop on Sunday night. National Grid spokesman Ted Kresse said power outages will be particularly challenging with gusty winds and temperatures in the single digits.
“Our main concern is the potential for heavy, wet snow and then the freezing rain that we could experience, eventually going back to snow,” he said. “With all those things and very cold temps coming in on Sunday night, that could present some serious challenges, with the possibility of winds and branches doing damage to the system.”
National Grid said it considered the storm a Type 3 event, meaning that 9 percent of its customers could be affected for 72 hours or more. More than 350 external line crews have been secured to assist its 200 crews in the region, National Grid said. More than 290 forestry crews will also be ready.
In Richmond, where a high number of dead trees poses an additional hazard to power lines, Department of Public Works Director Scott Barber said his biggest fear is the possibility of freezing rain causing power outages, which will be harder to bear in extremely cold weather.
“Whether they’re dead trees or live trees, the ice is going to be the biggest problem,” he said. “The loss of power, in temperatures like that, it’s going to be a huge problem.”
With no major storms to clean up after until now, towns have healthy supplies of salt and sand. Barber said his crews and equipment were ready.
“We’ve pretty much double-checked everything yesterday and we’ve got all the equipment ready to go,” he said. “We had a fuel delivery and the salt shed’s full. It’s pretty much normal procedure, but if it turns to ice, and with the temperatures dropping and holding like that, it’s going to be a big concern for everybody.”
In Connecticut, Eversource said it had line workers, tree crews and support staff ready to respond to power outages. Mike Hayhurst, vice president of electric system operations, said that given the forecast for extreme cold, "it’s crucial for customers to take precautions and prepare in the event of power outages.” The utility reminded customers to stay clear of downed wires and to report them immediately to 911. Outages can be reported online at www.eversource.com, or by calling 800-286-2000.
The south coast is expected to receive up to 3 inches of snow, but the type of precipitation could fluctuate as the temperature warms and cools. The cold snap will move out on Wednesday.