By Mark E. Vogler
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — A three-man plow crew hit the runways at Lawrence Municipal Airport around midnight today to make sure the winter’s first significant snow storm won’t stop planes from landing.
“We’re not shutting down unless it gets too much for us to handle,” airport Manager Michael Miller said last night as he and his staff of two prepared to clear snow off two runways, six taxiways, the entrance roads, parking lots and parking ramps.
Based on last night’s forecasts of 6- to 12-inches from late yesterday afternoon into mid-day today for the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire, Miller calculated he and his crew would work well into tonight to get the job done.
“A 24-hour shift — that’s what we’re expecting,” Miller said.
The National Weather Service Bureau in Taunton predicted 5 to 9 inches of snow would fall by this morning in the Merrimack Valley, with an additional 1 to 3 inches of snow and sleet accumulating by mid-afternoon in this area. A total snow accumulation of 7 to 11 inches was projected for southern New Hampshire by this morning, with another 1 or 2 inches of snow or sleet possible this afternoon.
Department of Public Works crews in the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire were gearing up early last night, preparing for the worst, based on forecasts and snowfall projections from the National Weather Service. Crews in most communities were busy laying down sand and salt on major and secondary roads as the first snowflakes were hitting the ground shortly after 4:30 p.m.
Lawrence’s acting DPW director John Isensee said his workers did some preliminary work in the morning, dropping magnesium on the roads to keep them from icing up.
“We’re going to put down some material early in a storm like this,” he said. “The magnesium keeps it soft.”
Isensee and other local DPW officials cited the timing of the storm as being the one positive aspect related to the bad weather.
“The good thing that it’s a weekend, so we get to catch up with bus stops and sidewalks,” Methuen Public Works Director Raymond DiFiore said.
DiFiore said that with a storm of this size, it was all hands on deck last night and into this morning.
“As soon as it starts snowing and gets slippery, we bring in eight sanders immediately. Once we get 2 to 3 inches, we start plowing and right after that, once all of our equipment is in, we start calling the hired hands,” he said.
Ryan Breton, a meteorology student who runs the AtkinsonWeather.com site, said he was “quite confident” there would be classes tomorrow for students throughout the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire, based on his own assessment of weather data last night.
“I will put it this way: I’m quite confident the storm will be long gone, so do your homework,” Breton advised students in area schools.
Meanwhile, Breton is predicting 6 to 10 inches of snow to drop overnight and today in northeast Massachusetts and 10 to 14 inches in southern New Hampshire, with the heaviest snowfall coming overnight.
“It will be nothing comparable to the blizzard we had in February, but it is one of the bigger storms before Christmas in recent years,” Breton said.
“During the past couple of years, we haven’t gotten much snow before Christmas. We’ve only had two inches of snow all winter so far during November and December,” he said.
“(Last night) during the first half of the storm, the temperatures were only in the teens — with extremely cold, arctic air masses that we don’t typically see in December. It’s rare to get the combination of this temperature and the storm before Christmas. The more significant thing this time of the year, is that the ocean is still relatively warm in the uppers 30s and low 40s, and that’s what makes a storm this time of the year difficult to predict,” he said.
As the wind shifts and comes in off the water early today, the temperature will warm up, shifting the snow to sleet and rain, according to Breton.
The light, fluffy snow that fell yesterday and overnight is likely to change to sleet and rain in the area inside of Interstate 495 — including Lawrence and Haverhill — east to the coast. This could produce the watery kind of snow that later freezes over and is more difficult to move around, he said.
“I would recommend shoveling and getting it out of the way in the morning because the temperatures will fall in the afternoon. The snow may be heavy to move around once the rain mixes in,” he said.
Early weather forecasts prompted Methuen officials to declare a snow emergency at about 7:30 p.m.
The Police Department posted on its Facebook Page that a Winter Parking Ban will be in effect from midnight today through midnight tomorrow. Many area towns also have parking bans in effect.
State police in Massachusetts and New Hampshire reported treacherous driving conditions early last night as snow accumulating on the interstate highways iced up the road services. Several rollover crashes and numerous spinouts were reported, including a rollover on Interstate 93 south in Windam, a crash at the Hampton tolls on Interstate 95 and multiple crashes on I-93 south in Salem.