Dan Gargiulo, of Plymouth, Mass., in town to help a friend with his snowplow business, checks out snowblowers on display outside Rocky’s Ace Hardware in Bellingham on Saturday. The store was busy with shoppers stocking up in anticipation of Sunday’s snowstorm.

Ice melt, rock salt and snow shovels were flying off the shelves at local hardware stores Saturday as folks prepared for the first major snowstorm of the season – a long duration storm that is expected to begin around noon today and continue into Monday and Tuesday with the potential for 4 to 7 inches of heavy, wet snow predicted for most of northern Rhode Island, including Woonsocket and Pawtucket.

The storm will be followed by some seasonably cold air, which means the snow pack won’t be melting anytime soon.

When Rocky’s Ace Hardware on Pulaski Boulevard in Bellingham opened its doors on Saturday morning, customers were already coming in and store workers say just about any product involved in preparing for snow was going quickly.

“We’re not seeing anything too crazy yet, but people are coming in for ice melt and rock salt,” said salesperson Brian Benoit.

Even with the rush, most hardware stores say they’re ready with lots of supplies in stock and will be open today and Monday during the brunt of the storm.

“We’ve got plenty of snow shovels and ice. We’ve got it all,” Benoit said.

The precipitation will begin moving into the Northern Rhode Island area today around noon, followed by moderate to heavy snow during the afternoon and into tonight.

“The challenge with this storm is type of precipitation and how much sleet and freezing rain we get,” said Nicole Belk, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Norton, Mass. “The concern is that we could get a mix of sleet and freezing rain Sunday night, which would compact the snow and make for slick conditions.”

The storm will continue Monday with mixed precipitation, which could turn back into all snow north to south for additional snow accumulation before the storm winds down early Tuesday morning, Belk said.

When all is said and done, there is the potential for 4 to 7 inches of snow for Woonsocket and northern Rhode Island, and to 8 to 12 inches in Worcester County.

“There won’t be much melting later in the week because it will stay fairly cold for the rest of the week,” Belkin said.

A winter storm warning is in effect today until early Tuesday morning when the precipitation ends around 7 a.m.

With most of the snow falling overnight tonight into Monday, Massachusetts and Rhode Island schools will be making decisions on whether or not to cancel classes. Belkin said travel could be very difficult to impossible at times and that hazardous conditions could impact the morning and evening commute Monday.

Local school closings, delays, and or early releases related to the storm will be announced on television channels 6, 10, and 12, as well as radio stations WNRI and WOON. Normally, an announcement is made between 5:30 and 6:15 a.m. on the day of the cancellation or delayed opening. There will also be announcements on school Web sites.

The storm will affect millions people in the Northeast and could have a major negative impact on travel for people returning from holiday destinations, heading back to school or resuming business activities.

Follow Joseph Fitzgerald on Twitter @jofitz7

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