NEWBURYPORT — With up to two feet of snow and a howling nor’easter predicted for tomorrow, local authorities are bracing for what may be the biggest snowstorm in two years.
The region stretching from Worcester through the lower Merrimack Valley is expected to get the worst of the storm, according to the National Weather Service. Flurries are expected to start tomorrow morning, intensifying overnight, then tapering off Saturday morning. The weather service’s snow predictions range from 18 to 24 inches, with near-blizzard conditions and wind gusts of up to 50 mph along the coast.
Late Friday night travel may become “near impossible,” the weather agency predicted, due to intense snowfall, wind gusts and drifting snow.
The storm could have severe, damaging impacts on Plum Island beachfront dunes that took a hammering from a surprise nor’easter in late December. The island’s east-facing dunes are particularly vulnerable to the gouging effect of nor’easters, and the weather service is predicting “moderate” erosion along exposed coastal areas.
The island’s leading troublespot is a 300-yard stretch running south from the island center, an area speckled with impressive homes that sit near the edge of steep dunes that drop down to the beach. The December storm stripped away over 10 feet of dune and left four homes teetering over the edge of the beach with their foundations compromised.
Massive sandbags have been brought in to provide some protection in front of the four homes, as well as four adjacent homes. The job is not quite complete — sandbags are not fully installed in front of Tom Nee’s Annapolis Way home, which requires some structural shoring up before the last sandbag can be emplaced.
At this point, there is nothing more that can be done to protect those homes, said Doug Packer, conservation administrator for the Town of Newbury.
“We’ve done everything we can,” said Packer. “We are certainly going to be monitoring it throughout the storm.”
Packer noted the storm coincides with astronomically high tides, which could exacerbate problems caused by the storm’s waves. The National Weather Service predicts an ocean storm surge of up to 3 feet, and storm-pushed waves will reach 9 to 12 feet in height. The tides on Saturday and Sunday mornings will be nearly 10 feet, the highest of the month. Friday night’s high tide will hit at 9:44 p.m., and Saturday morning’s high tide will hit at 10 a.m.
Meanwhile, island residents are preparing for whatever may be thrown at them.
Bob Connors owns a beachfront home on Annapolis Way. The December storm took out a large chunk of the dune under his home, exposing enormous steel girders driven deep into the sand on which his house sits. Last summer the steps on his front porch led down to a sandy dune; today, there is a 10-foot drop onto the beach below. He is waiting out the storm, hoping that it will move away quickly and the sandbags will do their job.
His biggest fear is that the storm will stall out over the coast and lash the beach for several days, as has happened in the past.
“All bets are off for all the coastal areas if we have one of those kinds of storms,” he said.
The last significant winter snowstorm to hit the region occurred in early February 2011, when 18 inches of snow fell on the region. There was already about 24 inches of snow on the ground from previous storms.