By Alex Lippa and Douglas Moser
---- — A few things are certain about the impending snowstorm — and a lot aren’t.
Plows will hit the streets tomorrow and people will have to shovel. But just how much snow will fall and whether school children will be carrying shovels rather than textbooks remains to be seen.
Meteorologists yesterday were hedging their bets, offering early snowfall forecasts ranging from 6 to 12 inches.
They did agree it will be a long-duration storm, starting as early as late tonight and winding down Friday.
“In the Merrimack Valley, it will be light and fluffy snow; that’s good,” said Bill Simpson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton. “We can say 8 to 12 inches — and the higher end is likely.”
All agreed it’s going to be cold, really, really cold. The mercury may not hit the freezing mark again until Sunday, if then.
Regardless, local road and school superintendents are ready for whatever comes.
Salem (N.H.) Public Works director Rick Russell said crews were preparing yesterday for the storm.
“We don’t want to be in here for the holiday,” he said. “So, by the end of the day, we should be ready to go.”
Neither the duration nor the amount of snow will be a factor in his crews’ cleanup efforts, Russell said.
“Whether it’s 3 inches or 30 inches, we’re going to be ready for it,” he said.
Those heading back to work after the holiday break should be OK tomorrow morning, according to one local meteorologist. It will be a different story tomorrow night and Friday morning.
“The Thursday morning commute doesn’t look bad, but the evening and Friday morning commutes could be slow,” Simpson said. “Plan for a slow commute.”
The highway crews will be ready to make the commute as safe as possible.
Raymond DiFiore, director of public works in Methuen, said his staff has been warned they may be called in, plows are attached, and 10 to 15 loads of salt just arrived.
“As soon as it starts, we’ll get the first line in place, the salters, until we get to the 3-inch mark, then we’ll bring out the plows,” DiFiore said.
Whether school buses will roll won’t be decided until tomorrow morning.
Lawrence students aren’t scheduled to return to the classroom until Monday, but most Southern New Hampshire and Merrimack Valley schools plan to reopen tomorrow.
School officials will be watching the storm track closely before making the call so many parents dread and their offspring anticipate.
“It’s all up in the air right now,” Londonderry school superintendent Nate Greenberg said. “The weather report keeps changing and I’ve heard anywhere from 3 to 12 inches. But we’re at their mercy.”
He said a decision on school will likely come early tomorrow morning.
“Only one or two times in the years I’ve been here have we called it the night before,” he said.
It’s the same story in Essex County.
“What I can say is I’m closely watching the local weather reports and online weather service updates,” Methuen superintendent Judith Scannell said yesterday. “My goal is to notify parents in a timely manner, which at times is not easy dealing with New England weather, so they are able to plan for child care if the decision is to cancel school.”
Meteorologists are calling it a coastal storm — and the coast may well bear the brunt of it, with a higher snowfall, gusting wind and the possibility of some flooding at high tide.
“Hopefully, the brunt of it might hit during low tide,” Simpson said. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be a storm surge. But it would be worse if hit at high tide or closer to high tide. We’re not sure yet, but minor coastal flooding is certainly likely.”
The National Weather Service is projecting waves above 10 feet at Newburyport starting tomorrow evening and reaching 15 feet Friday morning. Swells could reach 22 feet off Cape Cod and the south coast Friday.
The snow won’t be heavy, but shovels will get plenty of work over the 24 hours or more the storm lasts.
“It’s going to be a long duration storm,” said Ryan Breton of Atkinsonweather.com. “It won’t fall heavily, but we should see a steady snow throughout the day.”
Breton is projecting Southern New Hampshire and the Merrimack Valley will get between 6 and 12 inches.
Anyone braving the bus stop or the driveway should bundle up.
“It’s going to be very cold,” said Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine. “Highs may be in the single digits, with lows approaching 10 below zero. We aren’t concerned at all about rain or sleet, this will be snow.”
Curtis said the average high temperature is for early January is around 32 degrees, but that’s not the way 2014 is starting out.
“Once the snow comes in, I don’t think we’ll see temperatures over the freezing point until Sunday,” she said. “Even then it may be barely over the mark.”
Another storm may hit Sunday night, although it’s a long way from certain.
“That should be more of a wintry mix,” Breton said. “But it’s very early right now.”