By Bill Kirk
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Water and bread. Cold cuts and milk. Spaghetti and meatballs.
It was an all-out assault yesterday at Market Basket in the Route 114 plaza yesterday as shoppers from across the region flooded the store in search of food and supplies in anticipation of what forecasters are calling a potentially historic storm.
The pending, possible blizzard led to huge crowds and long lines at the popular discount-grocer, where even parking spaces out front were at a premium.
“I had to park down by the entrance and walk in,” said Mari Mendez of Methuen, as she stood in the cold-cut line at the back of the store. “I didn’t really want to come, but I figured later it’s just going to get worse.”
She could be right.
Forecasters yesterday were calling for the storm to drop 18 to 24 inches of snow in the Merrimack Valley, starting Friday morning and ending Saturday afternoon. In addition, high winds are expected to lead to drifting snow and reduced visibility for drivers. The National Weather Service yesterday upgraded its advisory from a winter storm watch to a blizzard watch.
It will start with light snow falling Friday morning, which could get heavy by midday. The storm will pick up in intensity Friday night, when snowfall rates of 2 to 3 inches an hour are possible.
“Travel may become nearly impossible with blowing and drifting snow,” the NWS advisory said. Winds will be out of the northeast at 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 55 mph. White-out conditions are possible. The temperature will be in the mid-20s.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency recommended people try to stay off the roads but to be prepared. The agency recommends people fill their gas tanks before the storm, which could cause widespread power outages, affecting gas stations. (See related tips for the storm.)
Unitil, the power company that services parts of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, warned that the storm could hamper efforts to restore electricity and natural gas to area homes and businesses.
“Should we experience blizzard-like conditions driving conditions will be hazardous and bucket trucks will be unable to extend arms due to high winds at the storm’s peak,” Unitil Media Relations Manager Alec O’Meara said. “While these conditions could delay restoration efforts as the storm progresses, Unitil is prepared for this weather event and we will still be able to work with first responders to address wires-down calls and public safety issues during this period.”
National Grid has issued similar statements.
At Market Basket, none of that really mattered yet as shoppers waited in long lines at the registers or crowded around the bottled-water display.
Phyllis Byrne of Methuen had milk, eggs, bread, muffins, cold cuts and meat in her basket as she stood in line waiting to pay.
“You’ve got to be patient,” she said. “I’m used to it. I know this happens when there’s a storm or a holiday.”
One corner of the store was probably the busiest area of all, as employees worked feverishly to stock water.
Kelly Kent of Lawrence had a dozen gallons of water in her cart, along with a loaf of bread, as she and a friend stocked up for the blizzard.
“We’re getting as much as we can,” Kent said. “I feel like we’re really going to get blocked in for three days.”
Julia Ladd of North Andover was also expecting to be homebound for a few days with her three children, so she was getting their favorite foods.
“We’ll have taco night and spaghetti and meatballs,” she said. “I’m expecting to be inside for at least two days.”
Krystal Marchand, 23, of South Lawrence, was also shopping ahead of the storm for her and her two children. She said she picked up bread and milk because “you can make sandwiches or toast and milk goes with anything.”
Erin Cammann of Andover said she was looking forward to staying home and doing some baking and cooking for her family, which includes three teenagers, who, she admitted, eat a lot.
“We definitely don’t want to run out,” she said.
It wasn’t just shoppers getting ready. Outside in the parking lot, Mike Rayner of Deloury Industries, Andover, was unloading heavy equipment for snow removal.
He said the company was expecting to use two loaders, a backhoe and four pickup trucks to keep the plaza clear of snow, which he had heard could be anywhere from 1 foot to 36 inches.
He was skeptical, though.
“If we see a foot, I’ll be impressed,” he said. “The weather people aren’t too on the ball this year.”
Time will tell.
Readiness tips: People should be prepared for extended power outages by having emergency kits with flashlights, extra batteries, portable radios, bottled water, non-perishable food and an emergency kit. Have sufficient heating fuel. If using emergency emergency generator, understand how to run it safely, operating it outdoors away from any open window. If your water supply could be affected by a power outage, (well-water pump system), fill your bathtub and spare containers with water. Set your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings and minimize opening the door. Food can stay cold in a full refrigerator for up to 24 hours; a freezer for 48 hours. Restoration of power will not begin until the storm subsides and conditions are safe for utility workers. Be a good neighbor. Check on elderly relatives and neighbors. Treat any downed wire as a 'live' wire. Other items to purchase: A battery-operated radio and clock Canned foods and a manual can opener A list of important phone numbers and a car charger for cell phones if applicable A first aid kit. Source: Unitil, National Grid, Mass. Emergency Management Agency JOIN THE COVERAGE Tweet your storm news and pictures using #ETBlizzard FOR THE LATEST NEWS On the Web: eagletribune.com On Twitter: @EagleTrib On Facebook: Facebook.com/theeagletribune By text: eagletribune.com/text