The coldest snow storm in nearly a decade dropped more than a foot of snow over much of the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire overnight to go with single digit temperatures and a sub-zero windchill that made scraping car windshields a frostbite threat.
Several Essex County communities — including Boxfield, Georgetown and Topsfield — were expected to get hit with close to two feet of snow by the time the nor’easter ended today.
The snow combined with the bitter cold prompted Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to close state government for today while urging private employers to keep their workers at home.
“The point is to keep people off of the roads and away from the cold, which is extreme,” Patrick said last night in a televised news conference from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency bunker.
Gov. Maggie Hassan also asked people to drive carefully.
“I strongly encourage all New Hampshire residents to exercise the common sense that Granite Staters are known for, follow all traffic and safety alerts, and drive safely on the roads,” Hassan said.
Temperatures in the Lawrence area today weren’t expected to get warmer than 10 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Tonight’s low is expected to dip to 8 degrees below zero with a wind chill as low as -19.
“By all accounts, this is the coldest snow storm since the blizzard of 2005,” said Ryan Breton, a meteorology student at Penn State who runs the AtkinsonWeather.com site.
“In January of 2005, the temperature in Lawrence got down to 8 degrees as of 7 p.m. The temperature in Lawrence (last night) was down to 3,” he said.
“This has been a very interesting storm that has been driven by arctic air in northern New England that has drained into northern Mass. and southern New Hampshire. If we didn’t have cold air, the storm would not be impressive at all. It’s the arctic air that’s driven the storm,” he said.
The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory through this morning.
“You can’t be outside more than a minute or two without gloves. It’s bad, it’s dangerous and it’s unhealthy. The air is very dry in addition to being cold. Those who are sensitive to very dry air need to take notice of that. But because this is a light, fluffy snow, there are no power outage concerns, which is a real positive,” he said.
As of late last night, there were no power outages throughout the area.
Meanwhile, road crews in southern New Hampshire and throughout the Merrimack Valley were plowing the snow off the highways and roads. With the freezing conditions, travel was treacherous, particularly on secondary roads, according to local police departments.
As of 8 p.m., Breton listed the following snow fall totals: Rowley, 20 inches; Boxford, 16 inches; Georgetown, 15 inches; Amesbury, 15 inches; North Andover, 14 inches; Topsfield, 12 inches; Haverhill, 10 inches; Seabrook, N.H., 10 inches; Atkinson, N.H., 5 inches; Salem, N.H., 5 inches; Plaistow, 4 inches.
Most school districts throughout the region cancelled classes for yesterday and today before the storm hit. Traffic was reportedly light, meaning there were fewer accidents than expected with a storm of this magnitude.
“So far so good. Not intense snowfall, but slow and steady and expected to last well over 24 hours,” said New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman William Boynton earlier in the day. “We are out there scraping and treating the roads.”
DOT posted an advisory speed limit of 45 mph for highways.
“The lower temperatures may limit the effectiveness of some of our anti-icing chemicals, including salt, which is not effective below 10 degrees,” Boynton said. “Seeing black pavement may be deceptive for motorists and slippery spots are likely with vehicles packing down the snow that’s falling. It’s still important to keep speeds down.”
New Hampshire State Police acknowledged the travel danger.
“Roads are pretty slick in all areas. It’s slow going,” said Lt. Chris Wagner, commander of Troop B that patrols Interstate 93 in Southern New Hampshire.
Yesterday’s storm was strong enough to force the closure of Lawrence Municipal Airport in North Andover. Airport Manager Michael Miller said he decided to order the airport closed at 4 p.m. because of the anticipated duration of the storm and concerns that the airport might not be suitable for landings and takeoffs last night.
“It’s been just a marathon storm and we have been doing snow removal since 8 this morning,” Miller said.
Miller expected that his three-man plow crew would have the airport ready to reopen by 8 a.m. today.
Flight cancellations had started at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport by mid-morning.
“We are currently experiencing some cancellations and delays as a result of the first wave of the storm. As the day progresses and the intensity of the storm increases, there will be additional impacts,” spokesman Thomas Malafronte said.
Travelers need to monitor flights, Malafronte said.
“Anyone that is planning to travel today or tomorrow should contact their airline directly to check their flight status and to inquire about the waiver of any potential change fees,” he said.
Crews are actively removing snow and will continue to do so through the storm, so the airport can return to normal operations as soon as possible, Malafronte said.
Boston’s Logan Airport closed last night at 8 and planned to reopen at noon today.
Few people ventured into the cold, but in downtown Derry those who did saw some sunshine in those winter flakes.
“This is just absolutely beautiful,” said Keith Barganier, a Florida resident visiting his son, Brooks.
“I’m a kid from Florida,” Barganier said. “I’m loving it.”
Jon Kevlik of Derry thought this storm was good as gold.
“It’s really good. I’ll be working,” said Kevlik, who planned to snowplow, shovel and snowblow in the aftermath of the storm.
Storm cleanup was expected to affect the region today.
A snow parking ban will be in effect for many local communities, to hasten the cleanup. No vehicles can be parked on any street or positioned in any driveway or lot in a way that interferes with snow removal and sanding operations. Vehicles found in violation will be ticketed and towed at the owner’s expense.