Nor’easter bears down: Snow forecast for Saturday

  • Chris Allard, an employee of the town of Cummington, works on a plow in preparation for the snow coming this weekend. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chris Allard, an employee of the town of Cummington, works on a plow in preparation for the weekend snowstorm. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chris Allard, an employee of the town of Cummington, works on a plow in preparation for the snow coming this weekend. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chris Allard, an employee of the town of Cummington, works on a plow in preparation for the snow coming this weekend. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/27/2022 5:23:47 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The major nor’easter that’s expected to descend on Massachusetts on Friday night isn’t expected to have as much of an impact on the Pioneer Valley as it will on the eastern part of the state.

While Plymouth, Bristol and Barnstable counties could see total snow accumulations of up to 20 inches with wind gusts as high as 65 mph, Hampshire County is likely to see between 4 and 6 inches of snow, according to Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norton.

“If you’re a lover of big heavy snowfalls and strong gusty winds and power outages, you’re in the wrong part of the state. If you’re in favor of ‘this is a nice snow ... with 4, 5, 6 inches, maybe 7 inches, makes it look pretty type snow,’ while still a little bit of wind, then you’re in the right spot,” said Dunham. “For you guys (in Hampshire County), it’s not going to be the blockbuster storm.”

Communities that are closer to Springfield could see up to 8 inches of snow, he said. The snowstorm is expected to start late Friday night and continue for most of the day on Saturday.

“Basically, the farther east you go, the more snow there will be to dig,” he said.

Other forecast models showed the storm tracking farther west, so there was still some uncertainty about Pioneer Valley snow totals. The nor’easter also may develop into a “bomb cyclone,” which is sometimes described as a winter hurricane. The term is used to describe any storm that generates a rapid fall in atmospheric pressure of at least 24 millibars in 24 hours, said Dunham.

It will stay well below freezing Saturday, making for light and fluffy snow. Temperatures are forecast to stay below freezing until Tuesday, with a significant warmup expected on Wednesday.

Road crews prepare

Whether there’s a foot or an inch of snow to contend with, highway and public works departments throughout the region are preparing to combat the snowstorm.

In Southampton, Highway Superintendent Randall Kemp said he tends to plan for the higher amount and then breathe a sigh of relief if it doesn’t materialize. The department has a fleet of six commercial sander/plow trucks; four one-ton plow trucks and two bucket loaders that the department puts plows on to aid with snowstorms; and a road grader that could be used to open up roads in the event of really heavy snow, said Kemp.

On Thursday afternoon, Kemp said his foremen were repairing one of the commercial sander/plow trucks. He was hopeful that the vehicle would be road-ready by the end of the day. Two other trucks are currently out of service due to mechanical issues that will not be able to be resolved by Friday night, he added.

“The rest of the crew is ensuring all vehicles are fueled and ready to go, pushing up truckloads of salt that are scheduled to be delivered today, and hauling in sand, which will be mixed with the salt for treating roads,” he said.

At the special Town Meeting in December, Kemp noted that two of the department’s vehicles had broken down during a 1-inch snowfall. At that meeting and the June annual Town Meeting, residents approved the purchase of a single-axle dump truck with plow and sander as well as a one-ton plow truck, respectively. Both trucks will be delivered well after this winter.

“My team currently consists of seven full-time plow drivers (including myself). Luckily, I am fortunate to have a great crew and a tight bullpen of reliable on-call plow drivers of whom we will be utilizing four during this coming storm,” said Kemp.

“Each of us has a specific route to cover so we are a single shift of plow trucks trying to keep up with a storm that may last around 24 hours. If we get the higher amounts, I am planning on being busy from around midnight on Friday for pre-treatment to late in the night on Sunday for final cleanup after the snow stops.”

In the event that a “snow emergency” is declared in communities like Northampton or Amherst, there are blue beacons attached to traffic lights that will flash.

For Amherst, this means no overnight on-street parking from 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. For Northampton, the flashing blue lights mean no overnight on-street parking from 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m., and 2 to 7 a.m. for Main Street.

“This allows us to clean everything up properly and try to be as minimally disruptive as possible. We understand that people have to get around and about during the day, but if everyone can tuck their cars in and get off the road and get off the parking areas, we can clean things up nice during the overnight,” said Amy Rusiecki, assistant superintendent of the Amherst Department of Public Works. “Typically, we enact that when it’s getting to be a larger storm that we can’t just work around cars that are out there.”

Amherst has around 40 trucks in its fleet and 65 employees. Those who aren’t manning the plow trucks tackle the sidewalks and crosswalks.

“Everyone is involved during a storm,” Rusiecki said. “We always have the mechanics’ shop staffed during storms as well. When you’re putting so much pressure on these vehicles during these snowstorms, inevitably, things either break down or plow blades get destroyed or you need to put a new one on.”

One challenge shared by departments throughout the state when a snowstorm of this magnitude is forecast is materials. With so many looking to combat the storm, when departments like Amherst put in an order for salt or sand, they’ll only get half of what was requested, according to Rusiecki.

Kemp also predicts that the snowstorm will put a big dent in Southampton’s stockpile of sand and salt, because in addition to pre-treating roads prior to the storm, the town re-treats as a means to help with traction.

Rusiecki and Kemp also recommended that people try to plan to not be on the road when they know a storm is coming, or plan extra time to get where they need to go.

“Each year, I make the same plea, but our guys can also do that much of a better job if they’re not competing with other vehicles that are out there,” said Rusiecki.

“I know that’s not realistic for everyone, but the more people that can work around the storm, rather than just being out there in it, the better we can do. It just allows everyone to get where they’re going safely.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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