By James Niedzinski
---- — It was 35 years ago this week that the notorious and deadly Blizzard of ‘78 pummeled Cape Ann and all of New England.
Now, residents, officials and businesses across Cape Ann are bracing for a hit of anywhere from 18 to 24 inches of snow, with accompanying high winds this afternoon, lasting well into Saturday, thanks to a likely Blizzard of 2013 named Nemo.
The National Weather Service, which now names winter storms that can essentially reach hurricane force, has declared a formal blizzard warning from 6 a.m. today through 1 p.m. Saturday — indicating a confirmed blizzard, defined as a snowstorm with continuous snowfall, 35-mile per hour winds and minimal visibility conditions lasting at least three hours.
As a result, a snow emergency and on-street parking bans are in effect in Gloucester from 8 a.m. today until further notice — and may be expected to last into Sunday, Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Thursday night. Manchester’s parking ban also begins at 8 a.m. today.
In addition, Gloucester schools are closed, and after school activities have been cancelled. Rockport officials initially announced Thursday that middle/high school students will be released at 11 a.m. and elementary students will be released at noon, but Rockport Superintendent Robert Liebow updated that announcement Thursday night to say that there would be no school here today at all.
Brian Edwards, a meteorologist with Accuweather, told the Times Thursday that the snowfall across Cape Ann should start this morning, with a heavy buildup this afternoon at a rate of two to three inches per hour. Edwards said winds could range anywhere from 20 to 30 miles per hour, but gusts could reach more than 50 mph, posing the potential for widespread power outages.
He added the Cape Ann area can expect a 12-hour period of snowfall from Friday afternoon to Saturday. He said the storm is being caused by weather “features” from the Gulf of Mexico moving into the Atlantic Ocean where they will accumulate moisture, gain momentum and then meeting conditions from the Great Lakes and Midwest regions. All of that is combining to create Superstorm Nemo.
Mike Hale, Gloucester’s director of the Public Works, noted the importance of communication — for residents and officials alike.
City officials met throughout Thursday afternoon in preparation for today’s storm, ensuring that National Grid would have appropriate crews and response times in Cape Ann.
Hale said there are basics to any snowstorm procedure.
Operations don’t change greatly, whether it’s six inches or a foot,” he said.
However, once snow piles up around the two feet mark, more equipment is needed for snow removal.
Hale said that the DPW has about 18 pieces of snow removal equipment on regular standby — and has contracted for another 60 in preparation for Nemo’s arrival.
With Gloucester’s narrow streets, equipment such as backhoes, Bobcats and powerful snow blowers are also needed to properly remove snow once it gets as high as two feet, Hale said.
”One illegally parked car could seriously impact emergency services,” he added.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk said the city is well prepared for the storm, but added it will take cooperation from residents when it comes to the parking ban.
As for power throughout Cape Ann, National Grid officials said they are ready to pick up any electrical equipment Nemo knocks down.
In a prepared statement, Grid officials said they are monitoring the weather closely and reaching out to state and local officials about any plans and preparations, with additional crews and resources brought in if needed.
”Our pre-planning activities are in anticipation of a very damaging storm,” said Kathy Lyford, the utility giant’s vice president of New England operations.
National Grid crews will not, however, be out during the peak of the storm, as it will be unsafe for the crews to travel, officials said.
The emergency declaration from Mayor Kirk’s office Thursday noted that a small Gloucester city emergency operations center will be established at the Addison Gilbert Hospital. It is expected that the volunteers will remain for the duration of the storm, staffed with firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel, the mayor said.
Officials throughout Cape Ann stressed residents stay off the roads and not to travel, as well as stocking up on emergency supplies.
Residents spent Thursday preparing for the blizzard in different ways.
John McKechnie, co-owner of Wolf Hill Home and Garden, said he was well prepared for Nemo. McKechnie’s fleet has about 10 trucks with plows, which mostly service commercial businesses rather than municipalities. Wolf Hill also delivers and sells fire wood — but the center sold out of its supply Thursday afternoon, as McKechnie predicted
McKechnie said his crews were ready to keep up with plowing throughout the night.
”This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” he said.
At the Sears Hometown store on Eastern Avenue in Gloucester, owner Ed Muzio said Thursday that snowblowers were selling fast, having unloaded half of his inventory Thursday morning alone. Snow blower covers, he said, were already sold out.
He said some other key emergency items are back up batteries, snow shovels and accessory items.
Muzio said he worries that some residents may be unprepared.
”Keep in mind we haven’t had a serious snow storm in a year in a half,” he said.
Market Basket store manager Glenn Connors said the usual blizzard goods such as water, bread and non perishables have been in high demand.
Connors said Market Basket officials are kept up to date on weather patterns, with the company moving quickly to supply stores with what they need.
Alcohol is also a big pre-storm seller.
Wayne Campbell, owner of the Liquor Locker on Main Street in Gloucester said beer and wine were big sellers Thursday, both in numbers sold and quantities of alcohol.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.