Ice melt, rock salt and snow shovels were flying off the shelves at local hardware stores Wednesday as folks prepared for the first major snowstorm of the year â€” a long-duration storm that began pre-dawn today and will continue into Friday with 8 to 10 inches of dry, powdery snow predicted for most of Rhode Island, including Woonsocket and Pawtucket.
The storm will be followed by some of the coldest air of the season. Temperatures could be near zero by Saturday morning.
When Rockyâ€™s Ace Hardware on Pulaski Boulevard in Bellingham opened its doors on New Year's Day Wednesday morning, customers were already lining up outside.
Store workers say just about any product involved in preparing for snow was going quickly.
â€śPeople are coming in mostly for ice melt and rock salt, but weâ€™ve got snow shovels, ice scrapers and just about anything else someone might need,â€ť said one store employee. â€śWe also had a lot of elderly people who were up and about early picking up supplies.â€ť
Even with the rush, most hardware stores say theyâ€™re ready with lots of supplies in stock and will be open today and Friday during the brunt of the storm.
The snow was expected to begin pre-dawn today and fall periodically, with 1 to 3 inches accumulating through the day today. The storm really gets cooking tonight into early Friday. This is when there will be periods of heavy snow, a very gusty wind, and possible whiteout and blizzard conditions.
A winter storm watch has been issued for late tonight through Friday morning. The snow will wind down and end around noon Friday, bringing 8 to 10 inches for most of the region, with higher amounts along eastern areas of southern New England, including 8 to 14 inches of snow possible on the Cape and Plymouth County by Friday afternoon.
â€śEight to 10 still seems good for northern Rhode Island with the storm arrival time holding off a bit, but extreme cold air will certainly follow,â€ť says local weatherman Arthur Cadoret of Cumberland.
Wind chills will be dangerous at times Friday as temperatures will be in the teens, and it will be very windy. The winds will also cause blowing and drifting snow with likely hazardous driving conditions.
By Wednesday evening, the first flurry of school closings and municipal parking bans had begun (see accompanying box, page A1, for closings and bans as of press time).
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.
Students in Bellingham, however, are off today and tomorrow because both days are professional development days for teachers.
â€śThe weather and road conditions are often quite different in several parts of town. The decision to hold school is based upon general conditions,â€ť noted North Smithfield School Superintdent Stephen F. Lindberg. â€śSome isolated areas may experience much worse weather and parents must use their own judgment before putting a child on a dangerous road to walk or wait for a school bus.â€ť
The storm will affect more than 70 million people in the Midwest and Northeast combined, and could have a major negative impact on travel for people returning from holiday destinations, heading back to school or resuming business activities.
It will be far from the worst storm to ever hit the area, but people should be prepared for flight delays and cancellations because of direct and indirect impacts from the far-reaching storm.
AccuWeather.com Chief Operating Officer Evan Myers said, â€śThe storms will not organize fast enough to make the perfect storm, but it will cause a significant amount of snow to fall over a large area.â€ť
As colder air invades the storm, he said, snow will stick to the roads and make for slippery conditions.
Within the heaviest snow area, the snow will fall at the rate of 2 to 4 inches per hour in some locations, making it difficult for plows to keep up.
The coldest air of the season so far will empty out of eastern Canada on gusty winds in the wake of the storm. Areas from New England to much of the mid-Atlantic will be very cold Friday into Saturday, while travel conditions will improve.
Another storm may eye the Northeast with snow, a wintry mix and rain Sunday night and Monday as 2014 kicks winter up to a whole new level of intensity.
(Follow Joseph Fitzgerald on Twitter @jofitz7)