By RUSS OLIVO
WOONSOCKET — Jason Cropley usually gets off work in the morning, but when his graveyard shift ended Monday he had another job to do: free his car from its prison of snow.
Cropley, a security guard at Portola Tech, thought there might be trouble when he heard the rumble of snowplows passing the Fairmount Street mill with increasing frequency during the night. Sure enough, they buried his car, parked just a few feet from the edge of the road, behind a knee-high wall of grayish, lumpy snow.
“It was hardly snowing at all when I got to work, but around 3 a.m. you could hear the plows really starting to work it,” said Cropley, a Woonsocket resident.
Mother Nature zinged scores of people like Cropley with her most potent blast of atmospheric ammo of the season as a nor'easter caught Rhode Island in its crosshairs, dumping 12 to 14 inches across the region over the holiday weekend. It left a heavy, high-drifting coating of the stuff, pushed by winds that occasionally gusted over 50 miles an hour in the Blackstone Valley — and even more powerful elsewhere in the region, according to the National Weather Service.
“It was a classic nor'easter, a major winter storm that moved up the coast,” said Bill Simpson, a weather service forecaster. “Low pressure doesn't get much more powerful than this. We had some wind gusts out on the Cape in excess of 80 miles per hour.”
Riding the jet stream from California a week ago, the storm marched across much of the nation en route to the mid-Atlantic, where it joined up with a low-pressure system moving up the coast from the Gulf and re-energized. Rhode Island was one of five states that saw blizzard conditions between Sunday night and mid-morning yesterday, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Maine, as the center of the storm passed just off the coast of Nantucket.
As usual, the most snow fell in the northwestern part of Rhode Island, but the totals still didn't measure up to the amounts logged by the North Shore towns of neighboring Massachusetts, including 17 inches in Saugus, slightly less in East Boston. Worcester got a mere 9 inches.
Coming just four days after the first official day of winter, the storm was the most prolific snowmaker since last December, when up to 15 inches fell in parts of the state five days before Christmas. The snowfall averages for the latest blast of wintry fury may not have been as high, but this storm packed a more powerful punch overall, says Simpson.
The winds were a major factor in spot power outages just about everywhere, combining with heavy snow to knock down utility lines and tree limbs. National Grid said about 2,300 customers across the state lost power at the peak of the storm, but in most cases the problems were quickly rectified.
Although highways and secondary roads like Douglas Pike and Broncos Highway were in fairly good condition as dawn broke, many side streets in the Blackstone Valley remained slicked-up and treacherous for motorists through much of the day yesterday.
But if there was ever a perfect storm for the holidays, the Blizzard of 2010 was it, as it struck while schools were closed for the mid-winter break. Courts and state offices were also closed, as were municipal offices in Woonsocket and neighboring towns. And many private companies were giving workers Monday off for Christmas because the holiday fell on a Saturday.
Main streets may have looked like whiteout ghost towns but the dearth of school buses and commuter traffic seemed to translate into a comparatively low incidence of storm-related motor vehicle mishaps, despite the tricky driving conditions. Police in Woonsocket, North Smithfield and elsewhere in the region said the morning turned out to be mostly uneventful, with just a handful of minor sliding accidents.
“It's actually been very quiet,” said Cumberland Police Dispatcher Michael O'Connor. “Just moving cars because of the parking ban.”
As predicted, the snow vanished by mid-afternoon Monday, but not the wind. Forecasters were calling for the gusty conditions to stick around for another day or so, with a gradual tapering off and a return to high pressure. The good news is the sky gets bluer — very blue, in fact, by Tuesday — a day forecasters say will be sunny with an afternoon high temperature near 31. Nighttime lows will be in the teens, but they'll feel much colder as continued gusts up to 39 mph drive wind-chills into the range of 5- to 10-below zero, according to the weather service.
It stays sunny most of the week and, alas, there's a warming trend afoot. Yes, there's a slim chance of precipitation in the forecast for the holiday weekend but by then, it'll be so balmy the wet stuff's going to fall not as snow, but rain.
The forecast for New Year's Day: mostly sunny, with a high near 42 and a chance of showers at night. Forecasters put the odds of rain at about 30 percent for Saturday night and Sunday, which may be even warmer than New Year's Day.
But you don't need a weatherman to see what's coming. With all that snow on the ground, plus a warming trend and possible rain in the picture you won't need a snow shovel. You'll need boots, the kind that keep out slush and mud.
It could be a gloppy New Year.