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First significant snowfall blankets region

December 10, 2013

Dave Sliney, of Woonsocket, navigates a snowy sidewalk, with the help of his service dog "Jethro", on Avenue A in Woonsocket Tuesday. (Photo/Ernest A. Brown)

While Tuesday’s snow was hardly the stuff of legend, it was a reminder winter is here and that bigger and more powerful storms may be just around just around the corner, including one that could hit the region as early as this weekend.

With the Greater Woonsocket area experiencing its first snowfall of the season — inland areas over southern Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts were expected to see snow totals in the 1-to-3 inch range – folks suddenly found themselves in winter weather mode yesterday dealing with just enough snow to make driveways slippery.

At Vose Tru Value Hardware on Cumberland Hill Road in Woonsocket, store owner and manager Chet Chomka said customers were lining up to buy bags of ice melt. “It’s been busy all morning,” said Chomka, adding that back-saver, bent-handled snow shovels were also flying out the doors.

If you’re going to use a shovel to move snow, these lighter, ergonomically designed shovels are the way to go, he says.
“The contoured handle allows you to bend less while shoveling and it prevents back strain,” Chomka said.

In East Providence, public works crews were pre-treating roadways with sand and salt, but the lack of significant snowfall kept the highway division’s plows off the roads – at least for this storm.
“The pavement temperatures are pretty warm and the roads are basically wet,” said East Providence Public Works Director Steve Coutu.

The city’s highway division salts, sands and plows more than 160 miles of city streets in the winter season.

Local weatherman Arthur Cadoret of Cumberland said the winter snow that moved into the U.S. mid-Atlantic region on Tuesday ended up having far less of an impact on southern New England than what was originally forecast.

“I think it might have been a little overhyped,” said Cadoret. “I think a lot of people get the impression that the news, particularly the television news, tends to push the panic button too much.”

Temperatures throughout most of the day Tuesday were above freezing, which means there wasn’t much snow accumulating.

“The temperatures were hovering above freezing and with the radiant heat coming through the clouds they roads stay wet,” he said.
Cadoret said northern Rhode Island was expected to see 1 to 2 inches by the time the storm moved out during the late afternoon.

“After that, it’s going to be just plain cold for the next few days,” says Cadoret, adding arctic air will spill into the area behind Tuesday’s system with the next three days expected to be January-like with highs in the 20s.

On Thursday, temperatures will stay in the teens much of the day, he said.

Another storm, with more significant moisture, is forecast to impact the area later Saturday night into Sunday. Right now, forecasters are watching to see how much warm air makes it into this system. If it ends up being all snow and ice, it could be a more impactful storm than anything the region has seen so far.

Nationally, it’s been an unusually snowy December. In all, 66.9 percent of the country was snow covered as of Monday, according to data from the National Weather Service. That percentage was the highest for the date in at least the past 10 years.

Early December is also a good time for homeowners to start taking steps to prepare shrubs and perennials for winter.

“Now is a good time to put down some wilt-pruf on azaleas, which keeps them from drying out,” says Betsy Newcomb of the Bellingham Nursery & Garden Center in Bellingham.

Because shrubs and flowering bushes can be damaged by heavy snow and ice, protecting them with a simple pole-shelter will help keep these plants safe during the long winter months.

To protect newly planted conifers or broad-leaved evergreens from harsh conditions, a simple windbreak and sunscreen usually suffices. The simplest shelter is a quick cocoon of coarse burlap or floating row cover.

“It’s also wise to mulch perennials with salt marsh hay,” says Newcomb, adding salt marsh hay is not a source of weed seeds.
If more significant snowfall does hit the area in the coming weeks, area towns say they are ready.

Cumberland, like other Blackstone Valley communities, has already funded its winter snow removal operations with a standard funding prediction and will watch to see if it is enough for this winter, or if more might be needed from a contingency account.

Approximately $250,000 is set aside in town budget accounts for storm work, including about $120,000 for snow removal contractors, $90,000 in materials, salt and sand, and another approximately $70,000 for town employee overtime, according to Mayor Daniel McKee.

A mix of town vehicles and private contractors is also covered in the storm funding set aside by Lincoln each year in its town budget.

Lincoln Finance Director John F. Ward said the town uses an estimate based on an average of four years of winter expenses to come up with the approximate $275,000 in the budget’s snow removal, supplies and contractor accounts.

In Woonsocket, Finance Director Thomas Bruce said the city has $250,000 allotted to snow removal that also covers ice control for the purchase of sand and salt materials, and other $95,000 for hiring contractors.

In North Smithfield has a total of $105,000 set aside for this winter’s storms, according to Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton. That includes $30,000 for storm overtime.

In Burrillville, the Department of Public Works plows and sands over 100 miles of roads. Main roads are cleared first, followed by side roads, then public ways.

“During heavy snow storms, deep heavy snow is problematic for everyone - for plow drivers as well as residents,” says Burrillville DPW Director Jeffrey McCormick, adding residents are asked to help the department by keeping vehicles and objects out of the road during snowstorms.

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