By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Almost 48 hours after the last snowflakes of Blizzard 2013 fell in Greater Newburyport, public works departments across the area were still hard at work clearing as much snow as possible from roads and sidewalks in time for today’s rush hour commute.
On Sunday morning, thousands of residents emerged from almost two days of hibernation to begin the Herculean task of shoveling their driveways and sidewalks.
About 21 inches of snow fell on Greater Newburyport during the roughly 24-hour snow event that saw some areas in Worcester County receive more than 2 feet of snow. The greatest period of snowfall took place between 10 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Saturday, according to Salisbury resident Ray Whitley, who monitors conditions for the National Weather Service in Taunton.
DPW crews in Amesbury will have all of today to clean up as much of the city as possible before students return to school. Mayor Thatcher Kezer III said Monday classes were canceled as the region is expected to be hit with a winter squall today, making an already problematic school commute all the more dicey.
“That’s just too much,” Kezer said.
Newburyport students looking to stay home an extra day weren’t as lucky, as Mayor Donna Holaday said yesterday schools were expected to open on time.
Newburyport Emergency Management Director Thomas Howard yesterday said the city’s parking ban was expected to be lifted at 8 a.m. today. The ban was extended through Sunday and into this morning to give Department of Public Services crews more time to widen snow-clogged streets, increase visibility at dangerous intersections and clear as much snow from sidewalks as possible.
“Parking will be a challenge and people have got to be mindful that they need to leave passage. If a plow truck can’t get by you, then it’s not a safe place to park,” said Howard, the city’s police marshal.
Howard urged motorists to be especially aware of high snowbanks, which can limit visibility and produce greater risk of car collisions or pedestrian accidents.
“Use some courtesy out there until we get the stuff cleared away,” Howard said.
Kezer said his city’s parking ban was lifted yesterday at noon except for areas where DPW crews have placed “no parking signs.” The signs, Kezer said, represent areas where DPW crews are expected to clear in the near future making the presence of cars a hindrance. The city’s winter parking ban, between 1 and 5 a.m. each day, remains in effect.
A parking ban will be in effect for downtown Amesbury today starting at 10 p.m. in order for DPW workers to remove the snow on roads and sidewalks. During the cleanup, parking on any public downtown roadways is prohibited and access to the downtown area will be restricted.
Making it easier on DPW crews and anyone shoveling over the weekend and into today is that due to low temperatures during the storm, the snow wasn’t saturated with moisture. The snow wasn’t fluffy either, as warmer than usual ocean temperatures added some wetness to the white stuff, Whitley said.
National Grid, the region’s electricity provider, reported that at the peak of the storm, Friday at 11 p.m, more than 170,000 Massachusetts customers were without power. By Sunday noon, that number was down to roughly 65,000 customers statewide. More than 2,000 crews — including National Grid personnel and workers from 26 states and Canada — were blanketing National Grid’s service area in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, repairing damaged equipment and restoring light and heat to affected customers.
Officials in Newburyport, Amesbury and Salisbury credited Gov. Deval Patrick’s decision to ban all motor vehicle traffic for 24 hours starting at 4 p.m. Friday, the first time such a ban was issued since 1978, saying it greatly aided not only DPW workers but emergency responders as well. And for the most part, according to those officials, motorists heeded the ban.
“We loved it, it absolutely helped the DPW keep up with the storm,” Kezer said.
Holaday agreed, saying the city towed only two cars during the snow event, a very low number considering the number of registered cars in the city.
“It made a huge difference, people really really stepped up and cooperated,” Holaday said,
Amesbury police Chief Mark Gagnon said the travel ban had the added effect of allowing his department to focus more of its attention on non-car related incidents.
“It kept us free to handle emergency calls,” Gagnon said, adding that police made two arrests during the storm including a domestic emergency on Carriage Hill Road.
The travel ban likely made life easier for Salisbury officials who were forced to contend with flooding issues along Salisbury Beach and the evacuation of between 50 and 80 people from North End Boulevard and Central Avenue areas during Saturday morning’s high tide.
Salisbury police Chief Thomas Fowler said the National Guard was called in to help evacuate people from those areas.
Whitley said the Blizzard of 2013 didn’t exceed the infamous Blizzard of 1978 in terms of duration or snow totals, at least in Greater Newburyport.
The 1978 storm, which is seared into the hearts and minds of generations of New Englanders, dumped 25 inches of snow in Salisbury and lasted longer as the storm front stalled over the state.
“It was probably a little more scary. I can recall the snow was falling horizontal for a long extended period of time,” Whitley said.