EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 8, 2013

N.H. well prepared for what's to come

By John Toole

---- — People across Southern New Hampshire stocked up and took the approaching blizzard in stride today.

"You're a New Englander," Beverly Proulx of Derry said as she bought gas. "This is no big deal."

Their coping strategy: Better safe than sorry.

"Stay inside, be safe, enjoy it," Jane O'Keefe said while running errands in Windham.

"Don't go anywhere that's not necessary," George Goutier said as he refueled in Derry. "Wait it out."

Last-minute purchases included essentials.

Susan Keenan of Windham bought bottled water.

"Be prepared," she said.

Husband Edward had another priority.

"I've got all the beer I need to get me through," he said.

The mindset to get business done and get off the roads helped road crews.

"The good part is most people are choosing to stay off the roads today," said Alan Cote, Derry Highway Department supervisor of operations.

Cote's team and others in the region prepared for action.

"Ready to roll," Cote said. "It's snow, we'll get through it."

Windham highway agent Jack McCartney shared that view.

"We're all set," McCarthey said. "All the sanders are on, all the plows are on, we're in good shape."

New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman William Boynton expected an advisory highway speed of 45 mph to be in place as the storm cranked.

"This is good for plowing, but limited visibility and a challenge for motorists," Boynton said.

With plowing costs amounting to $75,000 an hour, Boynton said this will be a $1 million storm for NHDOT, but the budget is on track this winter.

"We will have over 700 plows on the road for a storm like this," he said.

Boynton said traffic volume was down yesterday morning, but it was a different story overnight Thursday.

Northbound traffic was bumper-to-bumper on Interstate 93 about 9 p.m. at Exit 1 as Massachusetts skiers, given a break from school and work, headed early to the slopes.

"We like a good snowstorm," Mount Sunapee Resort general manager Jay Gamble said. "Our phones started ringing Thursday afternoon. I think a lot of people left early last night."

The blizzard's arrival delighted New Hampshire ski areas with the fresh powder setting up good conditions for the upcoming holiday and school vacation stretch.

"This sets the ski areas up for excellent skiing the next three weeks," Gamble said.

Gunstock Mountain Resort marketing and sales director Bill Quigley agreed.

"This sets up a phenomenal vacation period," he said. "This is an awesome opportunity. Go out there and have fun with it."

Quiqley's advice: Leave Boston, get a hotel room in ski country and buy tickets online to save money.

"You can shovel Sunday or Monday when you get back," he said.

Other New Hampshire businesses saw a different kind of travel impact.

Boston Express general manager Ben Blunt estimated the passenger load on the commuter bus was 25 percent or less that of a normal day.

"People were told to stay home from work, so we didn't carry many people this morning," Blunt said.

The bus company announced reduced service early on Thursday.

Today, the last bus from Salem to Boston went out just before noon. The last bus from Boston to New Hampshire was scheduled at 2 p.m.

"We canceled all service this afternoon and all service Saturday," Blunt said. "It feels like we timed it about right."

Manchester-Boston Regional Airport expected flight cancellations and delays throughout the day and limited operations after 5 p.m., spokesman Thomas Malafronte said.

"We would advise travelers to contact their airlines to check their flight status before heading out to the airport," he said.