PROVIDENCE – Mother Nature is targeting New England, once again.
For the third time in less than two weeks, a significant nor’easter is expected to hit the area, with this latest one slated to bring wind and snow to the region, with snowfall totals forecast to exceed 1 foot in isolated areas.
The National Weather Service in Taunton issued a winter storm warning for all of Rhode Island and in multiple counties across Massachusetts, including both northern and southern Bristol County, in effect until 8 p.m. Tuesday. According to NWS as of noon Monday, heavy snow is expected with this storm with total snowfall accumulations between 10-15 inches, and localized amounts as high as 18 inches.
Forecasts call for snow to begin at about 11 p.m. Monday and last through the day Tuesday until the evening hours, the National Weather Service says, with near-blizzard conditions possible for the morning commute, making travel extremely difficult with reduced visibility and poor road conditions.
R.I. Emergency Management Director Peter Gaynor said Monday that both the morning and evening commutes on Tuesday will “be a challenge” because of the winds causing limited visibility with the snow on the ground and snowfall rates potentially of 1 to 3 inches per hour.
“In general, travel [Tuesday] will be difficult,” Gaynor said.
Gaynor said he and his staff began preparations on Sunday, following closely the weather reports to plan for Tuesday’s storm.
“We’re looking at the weather all throughout the day,” Gaynor said, also noting RIEMA had a conference call with Gov. Gina M. Raimondo updating her on storm preparations.
Raimondo subsequently announced in a press release late Monday afternoon state offices will be closed Tuesday. She’s also urging residents to “stay home tomorrow, if possible” to allow crews and emergency personnel to do their work during the storm, as well as to check on family, friends and neighbors who “may need assistance.”
The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority also announced its administrative offices in Jamestown will be closed Tuesday and reopen Wednesday morning. The EZ-Pass website, ezpassritba.com, will still be operational for business transactions.
Gaynor also advises residents to pay close attention to weather forecasts in making their own plans for Tuesday’s nor’easter.
“If [residents] have some discretion in traveling, I would advise that they consider modifying that to either not travel or travel later in the day with conditions improving,” Gaynor said. “But any travel will be difficult tomorrow.”
A blizzard warning was issued Monday for Cape Cod and the islands, where winds are forecast to be in excess of 35 mph.
Some local municipalities are doing their own storm preparations for Tuesday. The Rhode Island Broadcasters Association states several cities and towns have issued some closures and parking bans. Providence Public Schools has canceled classes for Tuesday and the city issued a parking ban to be in effect after midnight until further notice.
Providence Emergency Management Director Kevin Kugel said Monday the city’s Department of Public Works is getting ready to handle plow operations, both pre-treating the roads and plowing them so they’re as clear as possible once the storm passes.
Kugel said this storm, much like the previous two, has an uncertain track, and making early calls on certain preparations becomes a “balancing act.”
“[It’s] making sure the weather is accurate enough that our decision is the correct one and we’re not causing any undue stress to residents and businesses by closing schools or parking bans that aren’t necessary,” Kugel said.
Gaynor also doesn’t expect any concerns regarding potential rising waters from rivers and streams for this storm, unlike last Wednesday’s storm when it hit during high tide.
“We may see some of our rivers and streams get to the ‘alert’ stage but not to flood stage,” Kugel said.
Pawtucket Emergency Management Director Norm Menard said he and his staff met Monday afternoon to go over plans for the storm for the city. Menard’s office also handles emergency operations in Central Falls, where that city will have a parking ban starting Monday at 9 p.m. and trash pickup will be canceled, Menard said.
Pawtucket Emergency Management also made plans with the American Red Cross to position a shelter trailer at Calcutt Middle School in Central Falls in case power goes out, Menard said.
Cranston Emergency Management Director and Fire Chief William McKenna said his staff regularly monitors the Pawtuxet River, which has swelled from the recent storms. He said the river is “slightly elevated” at just under 7 feet but short of 9 feet for “planning stage” and 11 feet for flood stage. McKenna said the river “didn’t spill out” onto the roads from the last storm, and doesn’t think this storm will affect the city much with flooding.
“We’ll keep an eye on it,” he said.
Tuesday’s storm also could impact air travel coming in and going out of T.F. Green Airport. R.I. Airport Corp. spokesman Bill Fischer said travelers should check with the individual airlines they have flights with to find out if their travel plans will be impacted or check the airport’s website – pvdairport.com – to see if there are any cancellations.
Tory Mazzola, director of public affairs for Keolis Commuter Services – which operates the MBTA Commuter Rail – said late Monday afternoon the commuter rail will run on an “extremely reduced” schedule, one step above no trains running, all day Tuesday.
The schedule, which can be found in print and on MBTA’s website, mbta.com/alerts/commuter-rail, states the commuter rail will have only two inbound trains departing to Boston from Wickford Junction (5:05 a.m., 7:05 a.m.) and T.F. Green Airport (5:20 a.m., 7:20 a.m.) for the entire day. Inbound trains will depart from Providence, South Attleboro, Attleboro and Mansfield stations in one-hour time intervals, and approximately two-hour intervals from 11:20 a.m. to 10 p.m. Those who travel via commuter rail should plan accordingly, Mazzola said.
Mazzola said the two previous storms brought down approximately 250 trees, impacting commuter rail service across the network, and he expects this storm to be “just as significant.”
Power outages once again are also a possibility due to the high winds. Outages were widespread across Rhode Island and Massachusetts from the previous two storms, with some National Grid customers being in the dark for multiple days in various communities.
National Grid spokesman Tim Rondeau said the company has more than 500 line crews and close to 300 tree crews stationed in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts in advance of Tuesday’s storm ready to address outages. Those crews, Rondeau said, will change around “as needed” in the event some areas are impacted worse by the storm. Some of the crews have been around since the last two storms.
Rondeau said while crews will work to restore power as quickly as possible, safety is also a priority as workers cannot go up in bucket trucks in winds exceeding 35 mph.
“Depending on the storm situation and weather conditions, we’ll hit the ground running,” Rondeau said. “But it will be determined on the safe conditions for crews to start working.”
Rondeau said customers who rely on electric life-support equipment, such as a respirator, should notify National Grid and register as a life-support customer by calling (800) 322-3223.
Customers who lose power should call (800) 465-1212 to report an outage. National Grid also will have a listing on its website of warming stations set up in municipalities across the area, Rondeau said.
For those who need to be on the roadways Tuesday, R.I. State Police Col. Ann C. Assumpico reminds motorists to use “extreme caution” around plows and sand crews while driving, according to a press release. Along with allowing extra distance between vehicles and properly using headlights, Assumpico said motorists need to travel slowly and call 911 if one’s vehicle goes off the road or is involved in a crash. She also reminds motorists to remove all snow from their vehicles before driving, or pay an $85 fine.
The state Department of Health, in a press release, also urges residents to be safe, especially while shoveling snow. RIDOH says to talk to your doctor if you have a history of heart issues to determine if you can shovel snow safely, as well as to drink water to remain hydrated, dress warmly outside and pace yourself while shoveling.
Regarding food, RIDOH suggests to turn your fridge and freezer to its coldest setting if you feel you could lose power; keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed; and throw out food if you feel the food has gotten too warm during an extended outage.
The General Assembly announced late Monday morning that Tuesday’s sessions in both the House of Representatives and Senate, as well as all committee hearings, have been canceled. A press release says the sessions are expected to resume Wednesday, with committee hearings to occur as currently scheduled. Those hearings scheduled for Tuesday will be rescheduled to later dates.
James Bessette is a PBN staff writer.