EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 8, 2013

SNOWPRISE! Area whacked with almost a foot of snow overnight

By Gretchen M. Putnam, Doug Moser and Mike LaBella
Staff writers

---- — While everyone was watching the shoreline, Mother Nature snuck in overnight and dropped as much as 10 inches of snow in some areas of the Merrimack Valley.

"As of last night, most people didn't think this storm would materialize," said Lawrence police Chief John Romero. "It definitely caught people by surprise because the predictions were so much less."

Ryan Breton of AtkinsonWeather.com said there were a couple of computer models that indicated we were in for a hit, so "it is not a complete surprise, but what happened is very impressive."

"There is a large ocean storm hundreds of miles offshore that has stalled, locking in the cold air overnight, resulting in heavy snow," Breton said. "I haven't see a weather set-up like this in my nine years of observing Merrimack Valley weather."

Morning commuters in Haverhill were met with near-blizzard and in some areas white-out conditions as well as slippery roads. City plows were out in full force and were clearing streets, but they battled constant snow that caused slippery, hard-packed conditions for drivers. In and around the downtown, pedestrians trudged along the sides of the roads as many sidewalks were still in the process of being cleared. It resulted in some precarious situations with drivers passing dangerously close by them.

On some streets, such as Emerson Street, drivers trying to make their way up the hill in front of the Comcast office were unable to maintain traction and were forced to turn around and find another route. Some drivers who traveled up White Street then stopped at the lights at Monument Square found themselves stuck and unable to proceed without backing up first. Drivers in four-wheel drive vehicles went around them with little trouble.

Police said the traffic light patterns along Main Street from White's Corner north to City Hall were changed to all yellow blinking lights so that drivers heading up the hill towards City Hall would not have to stop then start again. Police said the city alters the traffic light pattern at these intersections during every major snowstorm to allow the traffic to flow without interruption.

Most schools in the area were closed today. No widespread power outages were reported in the area.

Northern Essex Community College and UMass Lowell were closed.

Haverhill public library closed.

Haverhill police responded to six traffic accidents between midnight and 11 a.m. Police Deputy Chief Donald Thompson said most of those accidents involved cars that went off the road. No injuries were reported.

David Van Dam, Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini's chief of staff, said the Highway Department began salting last night at 10 to pre-treat the roads. At around 4 a.m., when the snow reached a depth of about three inches, the city called in about 155 private plows in addition to eight city plows as well as one sidewalk plow and one sidewalk snow thrower. "We will start salting again after the storm winds down," Van Dam said.

Police departments throughout the region have been busy this morning.

In Methuen, a car slid into a pole on Hampshire Road near Filbert Street at about 7 a.m.

Methuen Fired Department said one person was transported with a head injury to Lawrence General Hospital.

Methuen Police said they have responded to more than a dozen calls reporting collisions and cars sliding off the road. They were minor, though, and did not result in injury. Lt. James Jajuga, Jr. said State Police is assisting Methuen in responding to calls on Route 213.

In Lawrence, Police Chief John Romero said the police responded to five crashes since the storm started at about 12:30 a.m.

“Some people don’t slow down, and keep driving as usual,” he said. “It’s not a normal day. You’ve got to take precautions.” None of the crashes resulted in serious injuries.

Some drivers in North Andover found themselves stuck in the slush, as wet snow fell in the area and temperatures hovered near freezing.

The storm dropped between 8 and 10 inches in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire. Haverhill leads with 10 inches, Atkinson, N.H. has 9.5 inches on the ground and counting, while North Andover was dealing with at least 8 inches as of 9 a.m. this morning.

Even more snow is accumulating to the south of the Valley.

Most schools in the area were closed today. No widespread power outages were reported in the area.

The surprise snow caught many off-guard including the North Andover and state plow guys. Usually when a storm hits, the traffic lights at the intersection of Route 114 and Waverly Road are set to blinking yellow, to make it easier for those driving up the steep Route 114 to get through the intersection.

But this morning, the lights were on a normal cycle, and when they turned red, the cars coming up Route 114 were getting stuck, some were sliding backward, and everyone was fighting to get through the 8 inches of snow that had piled up overnight.

Up at Plum Island, where an extreme high tide hit this morning, a home on Annapolis Way collapsed into the sea as the storm waves battled the coast.

Check back on eagletribune.com for updates throughout the day.