---- — While everyone was watching the shoreline, Mother Nature snuck in overnight and dropped more than a foot of snow on inland areas of the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire yesterday.
The late-winter storm was centered far out in the Atlantic Ocean and was forecast to be little more than a nuisance for most of New England, but it was the persistent snow that threw people for a loop and causing lousy commuting conditions and more damage to municipal budgets already buried in red by all the white.
The coastline was battered resulting in a vacant house on Plum Island being ripped from its foundation and collapsing into the sea.
“As of last night, most people didn’t think this storm would materialize,” Lawrence police Chief John Romero yesterday morning. “It definitely caught people by surprise because the predictions were so much less.”
“I didn’t think I would have to shovel out as much as I did,” said Matt Robert of Derry. “When I went to bed we had barely gotten anything.”
Ryan Breton of AtkinsonWeather.com said 13 inches of snow fell in Atkinson. The snowfall brings the season total to 68 inches, 18 inches above the seasonal average in Atkinson.
Hampstead saw 13 inches, while Derry had 11 inches. “We thought we’d be getting between 4 to 8 inches,” Breton said. “But a large storm hundreds of miles offshore ended up affecting us.”
AtkinsonWeather.com said there were a couple of computer models that indicated we were in for a hit, so “it is not a complete surprise, but what happened is very impressive.”
Breton added, “I haven’t see a weather set-up like this in my nine years of observing Merrimack Valley weather.”
Even before the storm, the city of Lawrence had spent $750,000 on snow and ice removal this winter, five times the $150,000 that was budgeted, acting Public Works Director John Isensee said.
Plowing yesterday’s foot of snow will push his total spending for snow and ice removal this winter to close to $1 million, most of it to pay the 58 private contractors who joined city crews on the streets yesterday, Isensee said.
From the controls of a front-loader outside the salt shed at the city’s public works garage on Auburn street in Lawrence, Dennis O’Connell worked to keep up with the army of salt spreaders pulling up for more. By 2 p.m., O’Connell had loaded 34 trucks over 15 hours and was expecting to work at least another hour.
“I like being by myself, keeping busy,” O’Connell, 50, said about the job from his perch above the yard in the cab of the front-loader.
The salt shed holds just over 1,000 tons of salt, enough to cover each city’s 612 streets three times. Yesterday afternoon, it was well over half empty.
The storm was difficult on some local businesses, including the Three Dogz Diner at the foot of Falls Bridge on Broadway in Lawrence. Through breakfast and lunch yesterday, owners George and Sheila Bonfiglio had served just six meals, down from as many as 50 that they serve on a typical Friday.
“The dishwasher called me at 8,” George Bonfiglio said. “I told him to stay home. I sent our waitress home at 11:30.”
Morning commuters in Haverhill were met in some areas with white-out conditions as well as slippery roads. City plows were out in force, but they battled constant snow that caused slippery, hard-packed conditions for drivers. In and around the downtown, pedestrians trudged along the sides of the roads as many sidewalks were still in the process of being cleared. It resulted in some precarious situations with drivers passing dangerously close by them.
Most schools in the area were closed. No widespread power outages were reported in the area. Northern Essex Community College and UMass-Lowell were closed.
Haverhill police responded to six traffic accidents between midnight and 11 a.m. Police Deputy Chief Donald Thompson said most of those accidents involved cars that went off the road. No injuries were reported.
Paul Meninno of Derry said he was late to an appointment in Boston because the roads were poor.
“The streets weren’t really plowed and cars were going about 20 mph,” Meninno said. “It was a bit of a nuisance.”
Speed limits were reduced to 45 mph, and there were numerous delays and accidents on Interstate 93 between 6 and 11 a.m.
“It was exceptionally bad in terms of the number of crashes that we had,” New Hampshire State Police Lt. Chris Wagner said. “We had far more calls for service than we had troopers on the road.”
New Hampshire’s Troop B reported 93 motor vehicle incidents on their highways during the morning commute. That included a stuck tractor-trailer on the on-ramp to I-93 north off Exit 2 in Salem. The ramp was closed for 20 minutes as a result of that.
There were also several rollover accidents on I-93, but no serious injuries.
Car travel was seriously affected, but air travel was not. Tom Malafronte, spokesman for Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, reported only a few cancellations and delays in flights at the airport yesterday.
In Methuen, a car slid into a pole on Hampshire Road near Filbert Street at about 7 a.m.
Methuen Fired Department said one person was transported with a head injury to Lawrence General Hospital.
“Some people don’t slow down, and keep driving as usual,” Chief Romero in Lawrence said. he said. “It’s not a normal day. You’ve got to take precautions.” None of the crashes resulted in serious injuries.
About 1,500 Londonderry residents lost power between 11 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. yesterday after a telephone pole went down on Pillsbury Road, according to Public Service of New Hampshire.
Londonderry police Capt. Gerard Dussault said it was unclear what caused the pole to go down, but it was not due to a car accident. Traffic on the road was closed between Mammoth Road and High Range Road until noon yesterday.
Cleanup from the storm continued throughout the day yesterday. Derry Public Works Director Mike Fowler said most roads in town were clean by 1:30 p.m.
“We were out for a good 14 hours,” Fowler said. “We waited a long time for the storm to kick in gear and then it all came within a period of six to eight hours.”
The snow may not be here long. Breton of AtkinsonWeather.com said today looks to be clear and the temperature may even reach 50 degrees tomorrow.
Eagle-Tribune reporters Alex Lippa, Mike LaBella, Keith Eddings, Doug Moser and Gretchen Putnam contributed to this report.