Nor’easter bears down on southern NH
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Staff
January 23, 2005

A whirling Nor’easter moved its way up the coast and across New England yesterday, dumping upwards of a foot of snow across northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.

Travel advisories were posted long before the snow started falling, with parking bans in place until at least noon today in cities and towns across the map, including Manchester, Hampton and Exeter, and until Monday morning in Nashua, where some of the heaviest snow accumulations in the state were expected.


Before the heavy snowfall began, Ralph Suozzo and his son Zach, 4, of Bedford, race down the hill at the Bedford 13th annual Winterfest celebration at the Timber Town Playground Saturday. (MARK BOLTON/UNION LEADER)

State Department of Transportation road crews were out in full force once the snow started around 3 p.m., stockpiled with salt, sand and a little extra sleep.

“Once they’re out, they’re out,” said Frank Lowe from the NH-DOT dispatch center in Hooksett. “Probably they’ll be out there until sometime Sunday night.”

He said it generally takes an hour-and-a-half to make the rounds in each section. “In the event of really bad blizzard conditions, I imagine they’ll make a loop, go back to the shed, wait a while, then go back out,” Lowe said.

Airlines anticipating the worst began canceling Saturday flights scheduled in and out of Manchester Airport as early as Friday, leaving some travelers temporarily stranded, said airport spokesman Brian O’Neill.

By 6 p.m., all but three of the 32 flights scheduled to land before midnight were canceled or delayed, according to the airport’s Web site, www.flymanchester.com.

“Manchester Airport hasn’t closed due to weather in 10 years, and we don’t expect to have to close during this storm, either,” O’Neill said.

He cautioned that anyone planning to fly today should call the airline directly for the most up-to-date flight schedules, O’Neill said.

Yes, something wicked snowy this way came, all right — in the shape of a giant-sized swirling, throbbing blue comma moving across Doppler Radar screens, causing the National Weather Service to issue blizzard warnings for parts of northern Maine up through southern and coastal New Hampshire.

Weather service meteorologist Butch Roberts called it the perfect shape and size for a perfect storm that has punctuated an otherwise snow-challenged season.

“It’s a normal winter storm — we get one of these at least once every year,” said Roberts, from his post at the Gray, Maine, office.

“But in terms of tracking, this one’s an 800-pound gorilla. It’s going to go any place it wants,” Roberts said.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Mitt Romney declared a state of emergency with two feet or more of snow expected in some parts of the state, along with coastal flooding and near hurricane-strength winds bringing subzero wind chills.

Romney activated the National Guard in case coastal areas need to be evacuated. "The snow is falling not in inches, but in feet," Romney said during a visit to the state highway department's Lexington depot, where dozens of plows, salters and sanders were being deployed. "We also have a full moon and that means a tidal surge, and we expect three to six feet above normal high tide."

At the height of the storm last night, forecasters expected winds upwards of at least 40 mph across New Hampshire would cause zero visibility on roadways and drifts of five to six feet in some places, with snow falling at the rate of three inches per hour.

Exeter meteorologist Ken Mitchell said the abundant snow was a direct result of the extremely cold surface temperatures.

“When that happens, the snow ratio — which is how much snow per inch of water we get, goes as high as 30-to-1. That means, if we get one-inch of water, as the models are projecting, we will get 30 inches of this light, puffy snow,” Mitchell said.

He said if temperatures were closer to freezing, snow accumulations might only be about eight inches.

“This is a massive Nor’easter being fed by a very strong push of cold air, the first of what, more than likely, won’t be the last significant snowfall,” Mitchell said. “After all, this is New Hampshire.”

Bob Watson, an official Weather Service volunteer storm spotter and lifelong weather fanatic, has been tracking this one from his home-based weather station in Lisbon.

“This is going to be fantastic,” Watson said. “We’re only expecting a few inches here. But it looks like southern New Hampshire will get dumped on.”

Watson inherited his love of wild weather from his grandmother, who kept daily temperature graphs and regularly measured rainfall until her death three years ago.

Last year Watson, a computer engineer by day, installed a weather station outside his house. Coupled with his technical savvy, Watson now posts everything from wind velocity and snow accumulation to his theory of global warming at his site, www.nhweatherdata.com.

Watson also has a few weather cams streaming real-time weather conditions, accessible 24-hours a day.

He admits to spending more time than he probably should on various weather forums at WeatherMatrix.com, a national forum for amateur weather watchers.

“Oh yeah, I’m totally addicted to it,” Watson said. “Judging from the number of people I meet in forums across the country like me who have weather stations and weather cams, it’s catching on.”

Associated Press reporting is included in this story.