EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

February 8, 2013

Utilities, plow operators at the ready this morning

State road and utility crews are "ready and waiting" for the arrival of a blizzard that could dump up to two feet of snow across the state starting later today and tomorrow.

The Mass. Department of Transportation has 300 crews out now, pre-treating roads with salt and anti-icing chemicals before the heavy snow starts, said Sara Lavoie, spokeswoman for the agency, which is responsible for clearing snow from state highways like Route 114, I-93 and I-495.

Since most of the state is still just seeing a trace of snow, there is nothing to plow yet.

"It's still the calm before the storm," Lavoie said. "We are ready and waiting, and hopefully people stay home and don't think this is a joke."

She said the latest forecast calls for heavy snow to start mid-afternoon.

Utilities like National Grid, meanwhile, are closely monitoring the approaching storm to see where best to deploy crews before the heaviest snowfall starts.

"We have well over 1,000 additional crews on-hand for the New England region," said Charlotte McCormack, spokeswoman for the gas and electric company that services much of Eastern Massachusetts, including the Merrimack Valley and parts of Southern New Hampshire.

She said the company is looking at whether the storm will drop heavy, wet snow along the coast which, combined with high winds, could lead to more severe power outages than inland, where the snow is expected to be lighter, which would cause less damage.

"We are staging them and putting them in the best places to respond based on the forecasts we're seeing," she said. "There will be widespread impact on our service area with prolonged outages."

During the storm, when winds are over 30 mph, crews will not be out repairing lines and poles because it's too dangerous.

"There won't be restoration efforts during storm," she said. "We can't have guys in bucket trucks in 60 mph winds, it's just not safe. Once the snow starts hitting the ground, we can't do much until it's over."

The storm is expected to end tomorrow afternoon or evening.

Plow operators similarly watch the conditions and if things get too dangerous, they'll hunker down as well, Lavoie said, until conditions improve.

The National Weather Service is calling for whiteout conditions, which could hamper road-clearing operations during the height of the storm.

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