WOONSOCKET — If you liked yesterday’s weather, you’re 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 — a hard-to-predict combo of snow, sleet and rain — is expected to whack the region by nightfall.
How much of which form of precipitation hinges on a single variable — 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 don’t 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.
“That’s something we haven’t seen in quite some time and it could result in some very serious weather conditions.”
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.
Yesterday’s storm just adds to the city’s 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.
“As of now we could be okay from a standpoint of more snow,” he said. “But 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.”
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 city’s 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.
“We’ve also sent letters to people advising them to keep the sidewalks in front of their property clear as well, though we haven’t cited anyone yet,” 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, “Enough already.” 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 wasn’t until they crashed into secondary lows closer to the Chesapeake Bay that they’ve picked up additional moisture and morphed into more powerful systems, tracking north up the Atlantic Coast.
“Once they’ve reached the mid-Atlantic Coast they’ve turned into big, big disturbances, often in a matter of 24 to 36 hours,” says Cadoret.
You don’t 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 DON’T BE fooled, says Cadoret. January easily falls into the top 10 snowmaking months since he began keeping records in 1957, but it hasn’t 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 haven’t seen accumulations like this in years may be true, but it’s not because so much snow has fallen, says Cadoret. It’s because so little of it has melted – and that, in his view, is the bigger weather story of the season.
“It’s the relentless cold,” he says. “This season has been notable for the persistent cold weather that’s accompanied the snow, so we never get any melting. It’s just one storm after another and it keeps piling up.”
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 hasn’t 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 – 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 month’s Arctic blast. By late tonight, the National Weather Service says, temps will fall to about 14 degrees. Thursday’s 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 don’t crank up those snowblowers just yet. Forecasters say the chance of more white stuff is just 40 percent, and if it does snow it’s likely to be just a brief shower.