By Doug Ireland
---- — The storm wasn’t going to start for nearly 24 hours, but public works crews were ready yesterday.
They had already fueled up their plows and spreaders, and were ready to hit the roads when the snowflakes started to fly.
Schools were preparing, too — to stay closed in some cases. By 5 p.m., Pinkerton Academy, Londonderry, Derry, Windham and Timberlane schools had announced classes would be canceled today.
Those who must be out on the roads were well prepared.
“We’ve taken all the necessary precautions to make sure everything is ready,” Salem public works director Rick Russell said yesterday morning. “All the equipment is ready to go.”
The Salem crew and public works employees throughout Southern New Hampshire were preparing for a lengthy day of plowing, sanding and salting. They were also looking ahead toward another possible storm Sunday.
“It will be a long day for our drivers, but that’s what they do,” Derry public works director Michael Fowler said.
Cancellations started to roll in early yesterday afternoon, postponing community events and Gov. Maggie Hassan’s State of the State address. Some school closings were announced, including the University of New Hampshire.
By the time the snow finally stops at about 8 p.m., there should be 10 to 14 inches on the ground, according to Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.
That compares to 8 to 10 inches forecast for Concord and only 4 inches in northern New Hampshire, Curtis said.
The heaviest snow will fall by midday, she said. Temperatures will be in the 20s.
“Southern New Hampshire will be seeing the higher amounts,” she said. “It will be snowing throughout the day, but there will be no blowing snow or wind. It’s expected to be an all-snow event.”
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning through tonight, advising of heavy snow that could make for difficult traveling conditions.
New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman William Boynton said state roads would likely be treated with salt brine before the snow hit. He said crews would be out in full force during the storm.
Message boards will be illuminated on major highways, including Interstate 93, to warn motorists to drive slowly and cautiously, Boynton said.
“People need to plan accordingly,” he said. “You can’t get to the work in the same time you usually would.”
Many people took advantage of the calm before the storm yesterday to stock up on food and other supplies.
Shoppers began flocking to Market Basket in Londonderry as early as 7 a.m., assistant manager Jim Theriault said.
“It’s been busier than usual,” he said.
Although it may seem like a snowy winter, the totals have been below average, Curtis said.
As of yesterday, 34.5 inches of snow had fallen in Concord this winter, compared to the average of 36.6 inches, she said.
“But (today’s) 10 inches will change that in a day,” Curtis said.
The next snowstorm will begin Sunday night and last through Monday morning, but Curtis declined to say how much snow is expected.
“It’s still too far ahead to nail down the totals,” she said.
There may not have been record snow totals, but winter weather has taken a toll on public works crews.
A dusting of snow Sunday night and then again Monday — causing a flurry of minor accidents — sent public works crews out sanding and salting roads. In Londonderry alone, there were eight accidents in a three-hour period Monday afternoon, Detective Christopher Olson said.
The weather has also taken a toll on winter maintenance budgets.
Derry could easily expend the remainder of its $607,000 winter budget by the end of today’s storm, Fowler said. That means additional money would have to be taken from other areas of his budget to fund any other snow and ice removal expenses, he said.
Boynton said DOT recently ordered an additional 21,000 tons of salt to ensure it had enough. The state has spent $27.3 million, or 65 percent, of its $42 million winter maintenance budget.
“Obviously, it’s a been a challenging winter so far,” he said. “We are clearly ahead of where we expected to be based on average totals.”