By Doug Ireland
---- — Residents and plow drivers are bracing for a snowstorm that could drop nearly a foot of snow on Southern New Hampshire this weekend.
It's expected to be the second major storm to hit in two weeks, but not as powerful as the one that dumped two feet of snow on the region Feb. 8 and 9.
Nevertheless, town public works crews have been busy, preparing for the storm to hit. Store owners said yesterday they were ready in case of a last-minute onslaught of customers looking to stock up on food, snow shovels and salt.
New Hampshire State Police issued a warning to motorists last night, saying travel during the storm could be hazardous. Drivers were also asked to stay off roads if possible to give crews a chance to remove the snow.
The snow is expected to start falling tomorrow night and continue through Sunday afternoon, accumulating up to 10 to 12 inches in this area but not as much farther north, according to Michael Kistner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.
"It looks like you could see the most snow in Southern New Hampshire," Kistner said.
But there could also be only 6 inches, depending on whether the weather patterns suddenly change, he said. Temperatures are expected to be in the 30s and some of the snow could be mixed with rain, making it heavy to shovel.
"We will be watching it very closely," Kistner said.
So will plow crews.
Area public works officials said they would be busy getting their plows, salt and sand ready yesterday and today.
"We're keeping our eye on the forecast," said Derry Public Works Director Michael Fowler. "All of our equipment is ready to go and we replenished our supply of salt."
That meant bringing in additional 500 tons of salt, a large chunk of the town's annual supply.
Last week, Fowler said Derry had already spent 75 percent of the town's $547,000 snow removal budget for the fiscal year, including more than $100,000 on the storm two weeks ago.
Thanks to a little rain and temperatures this week in the 30s and 40s, some of the huge piles of snow dotting the area have melted somewhat — making room for the arrival of even more snow, he said.
Temperatures in the 30s and 40s early next week will also be a bonus, Fowler said.
"That's going to compress some of the snow," he said.
Despite all the snow that fell two weeks ago, Fowler and other local public works officials, including Salem Operations Manager David Wholley, said they had plenty of space available to dump more snow. Wholley said his crews were working around town earlier this week, using snowblowers to reduce the size of snowbanks.
"We did it just in anticipation of another big storm coming between now and March," he said. "It helped us get ready for this storm."
The town also just stocked up on its calcium chloride supply to treat snow- and ice-covered surfaces, bringing in 3,000 gallons, Wholley said. When a storm hits, Salem uses 70 plows and other vehicles to clear and treat the town's 375 miles of roadway, he said.
In Hampstead, Road Agent Jon Worthen said his crews were also preparing for a long weekend of plowing.
"We're just checking all the plows and making sure they are filled up (with gas)," he said. "We're also making sure everyone is resting up."
Hardware store managers were making sure they were ready as well, though yesterday they weren't seeing the big increase in customers they saw during the storm two weeks ago.
As a matter of fact, anyone who stocked up then probably would be all set for this storm as well, they said. Especially anyone who needed road salt or an extra snow shovel.
But with the storm ready to hit tomorrow, there could still be plenty of people hitting the stores today, said Julio Melendez, assistant manager at Bridge Street Hardware in Pelham.
"Most people waited until the last minute before the last storm," he said. "They were waiting to see how much snow we were going to get."