From staff and wire reports
The Salem News
---- — While the Blizzard of 2013 may end up matching the storied Blizzard of ‘78 in snowfall and wind speed, there’s one key difference:
This time we were ready.
Schools remained closed all day in advance of the storm, and businesses and local and state offices sent their workers home early once the wind and snow started to pick up after noon. Up to two feet was expected by Saturday morning.
Gov. Deval Patrick took the rare step of banning most cars from the roads after 4 p.m., to ease the burden on snow plow drivers and public safety crews. The MBTA sent out its last train at 3:30 p.m.
The governor said there were more than 1,000 National Guard troops ready to lend a hand, with nearly 5,000 available to be in place over the course of the weekend.
The worst of the storm was expected to hit overnight, beginning around 7 p.m. Friday and lasting until the mid-morning hours Saturday, with wind gusts averaging 50 miles per hour. Maximum gusts were expected to hit 65 mph.
Unlike 1978, however, when the blizzard caught the region unaware, leading to nearly 100 deaths, widespread coast damage and arresting images of cars stranded along Route 128, the North Shore seemed prepared yesterday.
Every community with a winter parking ban policy had put it in place early yesterday, in hopes of keeping up with the snowfall.
In Beverly, police said their foremost concern was Patrick’s driving ban.
“Lots of people keep calling, asking for us to give them an exemption or permission to drive tonight but obviously we can’t,” Officer Dave Costa said in an email.
Some stalwarts ignored official warnings to close up shop and stay off the roads. An employee at the Super Stop and Shop in Beverly said the grocery store had no intention of deviating from its normal business hours and would remain open until 10 p.m. – and that customers were continuing to stream in well after the driving ban took effect.
Grocery stores across the region saw a spike in the number of customers yesterday morning, with shoppers loading up on water, bread, milk, and other necessary items. Manager Dave Webber at the Market Basket in Salem said people were also loading up firewood and Duraflame logs.
“Almost everything, really.” Webber said. “They did a lot of shopping.”
Webber said the crowds started to thin out at about 1 p.m. and the store closed at 3 p.m.
Allison Dutch, an employee at the Phillips 66 on Maple Street in Danvers, echoed that sentiment, saying that the demand for gasoline was strong in the morning but had petered out by afternoon – and that it couldn’t compare with Thursday, which she called “astronomical.”
“Four cars deep waiting in line from the minute I walked in the door to the minute I walked out,” she said. “I’ve been here for five years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Michael Ruth, a bartender at the Rip Tide in Marblehead, said the Pleasant Street bar would likely stay open its normal hours last night and that business had been “about average” despite the storm.
“It’s been pretty steady,” Ruth said.
Salem meteorologist Arthur Francis said he expected the area would receive 12 to 18 inches of snow by Saturday afternoon.
“I’m surprised we haven’t had more,” he said, noting that the Salem State campus had only gotten about two inches of snow by 4 p.m.
In Peabody, officials were ready to open a “warming station” at the Council of Aging on Central Street for residents who lose heat or electricity. The station is designed for “temporary need” and the building will not operate as an overnight shelter, according to Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s office.
Friday afternoon, Hamilton DPW Director John Tomasz said he had roughly 25 vehicles at the ready for plowing and treating the roads.
“We’ve got plenty of sand, salt and the equipment’s all set to go,” Tomasz said at 1:30 p.m. “We’re about as prepared as you can be for any storm.”
Even with Patrick’s 4 p.m. driving ban, Tomasz said he’d be surprised to see many people out that late, with schools cancelled and most businesses closing early.
Tomasz said his watchword for the blizzard of 2013 is patience. Plows work on essential and most-traveled roads first; not every road will be clear as soon as the snow stops, he said.
“Just be patient,” he said. “All I ask for is patience.”
In a reverse-911 message, Ipswich cautioned residents of Ipswich’s Great and Little Necks against the storm’s expected high tides. Vulnerable populations should “consider options for staying elsewhere,” the message said.
“Jeffrey’s Neck Road may be flooded. Please do not travel through flooded roadways and arrange not to travel during (high tide),” the message said.