EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 17, 2013

Morning mess

Storm brings commute to halt -- or off road

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — Yesterday’s snowfall arrived just in time for the morning commute, backing up traffic on Interstate 93 from the Massachusetts border into Londonderry and turning travel into a stop-and-go affair.

There were no major accidents, but plenty of spinouts and fender-benders. Three disabled cars at the Derry-Londonderry Exit 4 off-ramp stacked vehicles back onto the highway.

New Hampshire Department of Transportation electronic message boards advised drivers to travel 45 mph and slow down. Slow was the easy part. Traffic moved at 10 mph on I-93 through Londonderry, when it moved at all.

State police reported dozens of accidents, none resulting in serious injury, on the highway traveled by 100,000 vehicles a day.

“The troopers are right out straight,” said Lt. Chris Wagner, commander of Troop B that patrols the highway. “They have been going since 5:30 this morning.”

Candi Terrio said her usual 45-minute commute from Penacook village in Concord to her All American Barber Stylist shop in Derry doubled.

“It took me an hour and a half,” Terrio said as she shoveled snow from the sidewalk.

Rich Cromlish said he was delayed a half hour getting to Hood Commons, where he was shoveling the walkway in front of Fashion Bug. He came into Derry from Exit 5 off the highway.

“It was stop-and-go for 15 to 20 minutes,” Cromlish said.

Travel adventure wasn’t limited to the highway.

Jeff Mullaney was shoveling in front of Gem Jewelers on East Broadway in Derry. He had traveled Bypass 28 in from Auburn.

“It was slick, a lot of cars were having difficulty,” he said.

“We came up East Derry Road and there were a couple of accidents,” Chris Shoemaker of Derry said. “Someone rear-ended another car.”

There was a lot of that.

“People were sliding out everywhere,” Seth Ducharme of Derry said. “There was one crash where the bumpers were off.”

Shoemaker was frustrated with other drivers. He said he and Ducharme kept their speed down and a safe distance from vehicles, but others didn’t.

“They need to slow down,” Shoemaker said.

The warnings were out, but many drivers paid no attention.

“It’s dangerous out there,” Ducharme said. “That’s why they need to take it slow.”

Megan Robie of Derry couldn’t believe in the slick conditions what she saw other drivers doing.

“I saw people texting and using cell phones,” Robie said.

Shoemaker had his doubts about some plow operators out on the roads.

“There were plow drivers going sideways,” he said.

Wagner said winter trouble on the road usually comes down to one thing.

“It is always caused by somebody driving too fast for the conditions,” he said. “If we could get everybody who crashes, who goes off the road, to say, ‘I’m going to drive differently today. I’m going to drive slow. I’m going to leave five minutes earlier for work,’ we’d be out of a job.”

State police always encourage motorists to invest in their own safety, drive appropriately for the conditions and be mindful of the other guy on the road, he said.

“You can’t ever be too conscious, too aware of the other drivers,” Wagner said. “A small percentage of drivers cause a lot of chaos and confusion. It’s really incumbent on motorists, on these days, to take care of themselves.”

Many drivers would agree yesterday.

“Tough driving conditions and slow going this morning in many parts of the state,” said William Boynton, New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman. “The timing, just before the morning commute, combined with conditions to create challenges for winter maintenance operations. Crews were getting out there the same time as traffic to respond to the snowfall.”

Warmer pavement temperatures had falling snow turning to ice pack, he said.

Police across Southern New Hampshire reported minor accidents along the roadways.

Windham School District business administrator Adam Steel said there were no injuries from a school bus accident.

“Eight high school students were on board,” Steel said. “The bus was stationary at the time and a car slid into the bus.”

A vehicle slammed into a utility pole on East Broadway in Derry about 10 a.m. and snapped it in half, police Capt. Vern Thomas said. He did not know if there were any injuries.

Thomas and Londonderry police Lt. Timothy Jones said their officers were especially busy during the morning commute.

“There was a high volume of cars off the road,” Jones said.

Ducharme acknowledged he is getting an education in winter living in New Hampshire, thanks to the snow.

He moved here a year ago from Sacramento, Calif., and admits he is a committed sandals-and-shorts man.

“I have never experienced shoveling out my front door,” Ducharme said.

He’s not sure he likes the experience, especially since he’s often rushing to work.

“This is the worst thing in the morning,” he said.

Most schools stayed open, though Derry canceled classes due to the storm. But many high school sporting events, concerts and municipal meetings fell victim to the storm.

AtkinsonWeather.com forecaster Ryan Breton said about four inches of snow fell across Southern New Hampshire. In Atkinson, he recorded 4.3 inches.

The region has experienced a pretty quiet weather pattern due to above-average temperatures.

Breton said Southern New Hampshire had a dusting on both Jan. 2 and 6. The last accumulating snow, 6 inches, fell on Dec. 29, he said.

But more active weather could be on the horizon.

“The weather pattern is changing and it’s going to be a lot more colder,” Breton said.

An arctic front is on the way early next week that could produce temperatures in the single digits.

Looking ahead to the big Patriots’ game Sunday night in Foxborough, Breton said temperatures should be in the 30s with no real chance of precipitation. Temperatures could drop into the 20s, should the arctic front move in faster than expected.

The wind could be a factor for fans worried about the kicking game.

“Either way it looks windy,” Breton said. “We could have sustained winds from the northwest of 10 to 20 mph, with gusts from 30 to 35 mph. That’s definitely a concern.”

Staff writer Doug Ireland contributed to this report.