WOONSOCKET â If you liked yesterdayâs weather, youâre going to love what Mother Nature has in store for us today.
The latest in a series of unusually fierce winter storms turns out to be a double-dipper. After dumping four to seven inches of snow across the Blackstone Valley Tuesday, a second wave â a hard-to-predict combo of snow, sleet and rain â is expected to whack the region by nightfall.
How much of which form of precipitation hinges on a single variable â the temperature, says WNRI Weatherman Arthur Cadoret. If temperatures nudge too far above the freezing mark, the precipitation is more likely to fall as rain.
It sounds good, but it could turn out to be a nasty doubled-edged sword. You donât have to shovel rain, but with ground temperatures the last to warm up, rain could freeze as it falls, encrusting trees, power lines, cars and just about everything else in a layer of ice.
âThatâs something we havenât seen in quite some time and it could result in some very serious weather conditions.â
The colder it stays the more likely the second helping of winter weather will remain snow, in which double-digit accumulations are possible in some areas. The National Weather Service was calling for up to two feet, in fact, in northern New England and upstate New York.
Yesterdayâs storm just adds to the cityâs continuing problem of keeping roads and sidewalks clear, says Mayor Leo T. Fontaine. But he said the private company that forecasts for the city was leaning toward more rain and less snow for today.
âAs of now we could be okay from a standpoint of more snow,â he said. âBut at that point it becomes incumbent upon us to get out and clear the streets as much as possible to avoid flooding. It would help if people could clear storm drains in front of their own homes.â
With snow removal equipment maxed out, the city is stepping up efforts to crack down on property owners and motorists who are working against the cityâs efforts. Police Cmdr. Michael Lemoine says the department is actively ticketing and towing cars left on the street, in violation of the parking ban, though police try to avoid tows unless specifically requested by plow operators.
On instructions from the mayor, the police have also begun issuing $75 citations for property owners caught shoveling snow back onto roads or other public areas.
âWeâve also sent letters to people advising them to keep the sidewalks in front of their property clear as well, though we havenât cited anyone yet,â says the mayor.
This is the latest in at least a half-dozen major winter storms to batter the region since the end of December that have weather-weary New Englanders saying, âEnough already.â Most of the weather-makers have started out as Pacific Coast lows that hitched a ride across the country on the jet stream.
As moisture-laden low-pressure systems, most of these events have had fairly humble beginnings, says Cadoret. It wasnât until they crashed into secondary lows closer to the Chesapeake Bay that theyâve picked up additional moisture and morphed into more powerful systems, tracking north up the Atlantic Coast.
âOnce theyâve reached the mid-Atlantic Coast theyâve turned into big, big disturbances, often in a matter of 24 to 36 hours,â says Cadoret.
You donât need a weatherman to tell this has been one of the most brutal winters for New Englanders in years. Motorists crane their necks at intersections to see above mounds of snow that block their view of oncoming traffic. Monster icicles dangle precariously from gutters while intrepid homeowners, shovels in hand, climb ladders to clear roofs they fear are at risk of collapse from the weight of heavy snow.
The fear is justified: the roof of at least one building in the city, a garage at 550 South Main St., succumbed without warning Sunday afternoon. No one was injured, but the garage was heavily damaged, as were a couple of vehicles stored inside.
BUT DONâT BE fooled, says Cadoret. January easily falls into the top 10 snowmaking months since he began keeping records in 1957, but it hasnât been a record-breaker. That distinction is held by the winter of 1995-1996, when January accounted for 42.6 inches of the total season accumulation of 110 inches.
This January brought only 38.2 inches, says Cadoret. The oft-heard view that people havenât seen accumulations like this in years may be true, but itâs not because so much snow has fallen, says Cadoret. Itâs because so little of it has melted â and that, in his view, is the bigger weather story of the season.
âItâs the relentless cold,â he says. âThis season has been notable for the persistent cold weather thatâs accompanied the snow, so we never get any melting. Itâs just one storm after another and it keeps piling up.â
Though temperatures occasionally dipped into single digits and, at least once, fell to around 10 below zero in January, Cadoret says that, on average, the intensity of the cold hasnât been all that remarkable, either. Just remarkable enough to keep the snow from melting a little every day.
Normally around the latter part of January, he says, daytime highs reach the mid-30s. This season, they consistently hovered around the high 20s to low 30s â just low enough to slow the melting process to an imperceptible trickle.
The sloppy, snowy mess that began Tuesday morning is all expected to taper off by 8 tonight, paving the way for some of the nippiest temperatures since last monthâs Arctic blast. By late tonight, the National Weather Service says, temps will fall to about 14 degrees. Thursdayâs daytime highs may not make it out of the 20s and by late at night the temps will dip to their lowest point of the week, about 8 degrees.
The sun comes out again Friday and temperatures stabilize a bit. Next chance of snow: Saturday, but donât crank up those snowblowers just yet. Forecasters say the chance of more white stuff is just 40 percent, and if it does snow itâs likely to be just a brief shower.