NEWBURYPORT - Skiers! Snowplowers! Children yearning for a snow day! Gather round, and behold: Here are tidings of great joy. After months of winter in which almost nary a flake fell, weather-watchers are predicting the first big snowstorm of the season will strike the area beginning this evening and carrying on into tomorrow.
Alan Dunham, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Taunton, said the snow is expected to begin late tonight, with 2 to 4 inches of accumulation by morning. Precipitation is expected to continue through Wednesday night, but whether it will be snow throughout or change to a rainy mix tomorrow during the day remains to be seen.
"The real test is the track the storm takes," said Ray Whitley, a Salisbury resident and teacher at Triton who tracks local weather as a hobby. If it comes north straight over Nantucket, we'll know that we're probably in for straight snow. If it comes up inside of Nantucket, it will switch to rain. If it passes east of Nantucket, we may not get much at all."
Even if the snow turns to rain tomorrow, Whitley said he expects at least an inch and half of snow on the ground when all is said and done.
"We're still well below average for this time of year, though," he said. "We should have gotten more than 40 inches by now, and instead so far, we have 10.9 inches."
The lowest total snowfall ever recorded for this area was 12 inches in the winter of 1979 and 1980.
Newburyport Director of Public Services Brendan O'Regan said his staff is preparing for a busy couple of days.
"We had a meeting about it this morning," O'Regan said yesterday. "We've got new plow blades on the trucks, and the salt shed is filled up to the top. It looks like we're going to have to call in our private plowing contractors to help out our own staff in keeping the roads clear."
Though it's the first significant storm of the year, Dunham said people have to have their snow skills in midwinter form.
"This will be the first real snow storm of the year, so people are going to have to remember how to deal with that," Dunham said. "Leave some extra time to go where you're going, because there will probably be a lot of blowing and drifting on the roads. Make sure you have an emergency kit in your car with a flashlight, candy bars and a bag of sand in case you get stuck."