By Bill Kirk
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — It was a stubborn storm from a stubborn winter.
Yesterday, snow started around midnight and dropped about 8 inches in the Merrimack Valley before coming to an end around noon. It started up again later in the day, dropping another 2 to 4 inches, for a total of 10 to 12 inches across the region.
While the winter may seem like it’s been long, dreary and snowy, the fact of the matter is that it didn’t really snow much at all until February. According to Bruce Thibodeau, director of the Department of Public Works in North Andover, there was a 5.5-inch storm just after Christmas, but that melted away quickly with ensuing warm weather. It didn’t really snow again until the big blizzard hit Feb. 8 and dropped 2 to 3 feet of snow across the Merrimack Valley. Since then, it’s been one storm after another.
“This is sort of like torture,” said Ray DiFiore, public works director in Methuen, referring to the roughly 1 foot of heavy, wet snow that fell across the city yesterday.
“At 1 a.m. we sent out the sanders. At 3 a.m. we sent out our own plow trucks. At 5 a.m. we called in the hired equipment. We’ve gotten this storm beaten down three or four times,” he said. By 2 p.m. yesterday, things were pretty well in hand. Most of the streets were cleared down to black pavement.
But then he heard another weather report.
“Now, they are saying we could get dumped another 3 to 5 inches,” he said.
National Weather Service meteorologist Alan Dunham confirmed there was a slight lull in snowfall, followed by a significant upper-cut which was expected to drop as much as three more inches.
“It’s nothing we didn’t expect,” he said.
While he didn’t have the season’s official snowfall amounts for the Merrimack Valley because the NWS weather station at the Lawrence Municipal Airport doesn’t tally snowfall amounts, he was able to give Boston figures — about 65 inches, versus a typical winter of about 40 inches.
Thibodeau said North Andover’s measurement came in at around 78 inches for this winter. A typical year for the town is 75 to 85 inches, putting this winter right in the ballpark. Last year, he recalled, there was hardly any snow, but two years ago, North Andover got 85 inches.
Yesterday’s storm caused a lot of problems on area highways, with Interstate 93 seeming to bear the brunt of accidents. Most area schools were also closed for the day, pushing the last day of school deeper and deeper into summer. Methuen Superintendent Judith Scannell said the last day will be June 26, a full eight days past the original end of school, which was June 18.
Andover, North Andover, Haverhill and Lawrence schools were also shut for the day.
State Police in Andover responded to 15 to 20 accidents on I-93 and I-495 yesterday, mostly spinouts into the median or off to the side of the highways, requiring them to be winched out by a tow truck. A couple of people were taken to area hospitals complaining of back and neck pain, according to Trooper Dan O’Brien of the Andover barracks.
The accidents started happening around midnight and didn’t let up until mid-morning, he said. Most of them, about 70 percent, took place on I-93.
Along the northern stretch of I-95 and the northern portion of I-495, however, things were a little better. There, only seven spinouts, mostly on I-95, took place during the early part of the storm, according to the dispatcher at the Newbury barracks. No injuries were reported in those accidents.
Bob Sheehan of Sheehan’s Towing in Methuen said he was busy all morning but that “the highway (was) clear as a bell” by around 1 p.m.
He said most of the cars his tow trucks had to winch out were not badly damaged and he didn’t encounter anyone who was injured.
“It quieted down around 9:30 or 10 (yesterday) morning,” he said.
At 7:02 a.m. today, spring started with the Vernal Equinox, which allegedly brings warm weather, sunny skies, and bright flowers. However, the region could be hit with another storm Thursday, according to Dunham of the National Weather Service.
“There’s a chance of snow showers Thursday into Thursday night, but that will be mostly southeastern Mass and the Cape,” he said.
For tired public works employees, the hope is that the last day of winter meant the last snow storm.
“Hopefully this is the last one,” DiFiore said.
Trooper O’Brien of the Andover State Police barracks responded, “Well, you have to ask Mother Nature. Hopefully the storm coming later in the week is all rain.”