By James Niedzinski
---- — A giant storm named Nemo brought Gloucester, Cape Ann, all of Massachusetts and much of New England to a virtual halt Friday, forcing landmark road closings, shutting down schools and businesses and spurring widespread road and utility repair efforts.
And more is expected today, with officials and coastal residents wary of a dangerous storm surge expected to accompany this morning’s high tide.
The storm — named by the National Weather Service, which now names winter storms that can rival hurricanes in terms of punch —coincides with the infamous and deadly Blizzard of 1978, which hit New England 35 years ago this week. And, as of Friday night, it already rivaled that storm in at least one aspect: the executive order by Gov. Deval Patrick, which banned all non-essential vehicles from all of the state’s roadways by 4 p.m. And the travel ban is the first such statewide order issues since the February 1978 blizzard, which paralyzed much of Eastern Massachusetts for days.
The storm was, as of late Friday, projected to bring a total of up to two feet of snow to Cape Ann, with now expected to fall at up to four inches per hour during the height of the blizzard expected to roar through the region overnight. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects 6-10 inches of that snowfall to come today, with snow tapering off this afternoon and sunny skies, with an extensive cleanup, likely on Sunday.
Brian Edwards, a meteorologist with Accuweather, told the Times that a 12-hour period of snowfall across Cape Ann would be ending today. He said the storm is being caused by a merging of storm “features” coming from out of the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic and meeting another system coming eastward from the Great Lakes.
While all area schools were closed and both the MBTA and Cape Ann Transportation Authority (CATA) shut down in mid-afternoon on Friday, Bill Simpson, a spokesman with the National Weather Service, emphasized that many of the roads along Cape Ann’s may will be impassable for most of the day today — especially along the shores.
Simpson also said Friday he now expects offshore waves could hit around 22 feet on top of the storm surge, with winds ranging from 53 to 63 miles per hour, and gusts could reach higher.
Jim Caulkett, Gloucester’s harbormaster, said the high tide is expected around 10 a.m. today and shores near Lanes Cove might bear the brunt of the storm.
“The only thing in our favor is winds out of the northwest,” he said Friday.
Gloucester today remains under a street parking ban in conjunction with the snow emergency that began Friday morning and was declared late Thursday by Mayor Carolyn Kirk. Rockport’s selectmen also held an emergency meeting Friday, and voted to declare a formal state of emergency for that town as well. Selectman Paul Murphy said that declaration allows Town Administrator Linda Sanders to call in additional town personnel, and carry out emergency spending if needed. The declaration also makes the town eligible to receive Federal Emergency Management Administration funding if needed — though Murphy quickly added he hopes that’s not the case.
In Gloucester, police began carrying out “tagging and towing” operations Friday afternoon to clear the streets in conjunction with the city’s parking ban. Police Chief Leonard Campanello emphasized that the effort was not aimed at targeting motorists, but to ensure firefighters, police officers, plows and medical teams are able to traverse the streets uninterrupted, Campanello said. He added the routes in and out of the city would be plowed first, as well as routes to and from Addison Gilbert Hospital.
Department of Public Works crews, seeking to get a jump on the storm, began sanding and plowing operations as early as Friday morning. The DPW has 18 vehicles on the roads, augmented by a force of 60 outside plowing and other equipment contractors tackling the storm.
Meanwhile, approximately 800 additional National Grid crews have been brought in earlier this week in anticipation of the storm, according to spokesperson Charolette McCormack.
She said the utility giant’s primary concern is the safety of all crew members, but crews would be basing their response times along with weather patterns.
McCormack said hopefully crews will be able to get out this morning and this afternoon to restore outages, but while Gloucester will also be coordinating a small emergency operations center at Addison Gilbert Hospital to coordinate city-wide plans.
For updates regarding the storm over the weekend, look to the Times’ online coverage at gloucestertimes.com. To have text alerts regarding the storm or other breaking news coverage sent to your mobile phone, just sign up for the Times’ free text-alert service on the gloucestertimes.com homepage.
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James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455, or at email@example.com.