EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 18, 2012

Icy conditions contribute to commuter chaos

By Bill Kirk
bkirk@eagletribune.com

---- — It wasn’t the snow. It was the ice falling from the sky that created problems for area commuters yesterday.

With just an inch or less coating the ground from Sunday evening’s snow squalls, the precipitation turned to rain overnight, covering the ground, and area roadways, with a crusty glaze.

“The snowfall was not significant,” said Charlie Foley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton. “It was an inch or less. The big culprit was the freezing rain.”

He said rain falling through a cold-air mass turned to ice before hitting the ground. But once it hit the ground, it turned into a fine glaze, in some cases creating black ice.

“Just a trace of that is enough to cause problems,” he said. “Somebody hits the brakes and they slide.”

He said the worst of it was on secondary roads, although even major highways became skating rinks early in the morning.

During the morning commute, and even for a while before and after it, the roads were hazardous to drive on, according to local and state police.

On the Methuen/Haverhill line, a tractor-trailer jackknifed on Interstate 495 near Route 213, blocking two lanes of traffic at around 7:20 a.m. Monday. State Police in Andover said the scene was cleared by around 8:30 a.m., but the damage was done as commuters either sat in traffic for up to an hour or took back roads to get to work, sometimes resulting in even longer commutes.

In North Andover, police said there were accidents “all over the place” but were mostly fender benders or cars sliding off roads, with no injuries.

There was a rollover on Route 125 in North Andover around 4 a.m., police said, but that accident was cleared before the morning commute.

In Methuen, a woman backing out of her driveway collided with a Public Works truck at around 8 a.m.

At around 7 a.m., an accident was reported on Route 213 between the Route 28 and I-93 exits in Methuen.

Weather forecasters had predicted that the temperature in the afternoon would go up, leading to melting and improved roadways.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the cold air stayed, at least in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire, continuing to cause problems into the early afternoon.

An accident on I-495 North in Lawrence, just north of the double-decker bridge, forced State Police to shut down two lanes of traffic as fire and ambulance crews worked on the injured.

John Isensee, public works director in Lawrence, said he had 13 trucks out sanding and salting starting Sunday and working all day yesterday.

“We were hoping the temperature might have kicked up sooner than it did,” he said yesterday afternoon. “When it gets like this and stays below freezing you have to continue to maintain salting and sanding as long as the roads are icy.”

“This is a good wakeup call that we are in full winter season,” he said. “We’ve got to shake the bugs out of the trucks.”

North of the border, New Hampshire weather prognosticators said that warmer weather was on its way, which may mean a green Christmas, not a white one.

“At this point the chances of a white Christmas are not very high,” Ryan Breton of AtkinsonWeather.com said.

Temperatures appear mild, so any storms aren’t likely to be dumping snow. “They all look like rain events,” Breton said.

Rain is expected today. Another storm could move in late on Friday, Breton said.

Travelers and Christmas shoppers could get a break starting tomorrow. “The rest of the week looks mild. Mostly sunny, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” he said.

Schools throughout Southern New Hampshire delayed openings 90 minutes to two hours to make travel safer for students.

“Typical trouble,” was how New Hampshire State Police Lt. Chris Wagner characterized the traffic situation during the morning commute along Interstate 93.

“Nothing major. Nothing serious. Drivers off the road and into guardrails,” Wagner said.

Eagle-Tribune reporter John Toole contributed to this report.