2009-12-24 / Front Page

Blizzard dumps 20 inches of snow

Islanders get a white Christmas
By Dara Chadwick

A breathtaking view A breathtaking view Whether last weekend’s blizzard was one for the record books is open to debate, but one fact is clear: Mother Nature dumped an impressive amount of snow on the island, leaving an aftermath that was an early holiday gift to some — and a pre-holiday headache to others.

Jamestown Department of Public Works Director Steve Goslee reportedly measured 20 inches of snow in his own backyard, while Town Engineer Mike Gray reported that snow drifts of four and five feet were found at the Lawn Avenue and Melrose schools.

According to Neal Strauss, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass., December 2009 is currently the seventh snowiest December on record since official record keeping began in 1905. The record goes to December 1945, when 26.7 inches of snow fell.

Record or not, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said Jamestown was ready for the event.

Patty Woodward got a workout while clearing snow from her driveway on Coronado Street. Photo by Jeff McDonough Patty Woodward got a workout while clearing snow from her driveway on Coronado Street. Photo by Jeff McDonough “We had significant advance warning,” he said. “We turned out crews at 8 p.m. on Saturday night and they worked right through until Monday morning.”

The biggest problem crews faced, according to Keiser, was the sheer volume of snow.

“Conditions were so severe that our own plow trucks were getting stuck and had to be pulled out by our backhoe,” he said.

The public works fleet, which includes five large dump trucks with plows, one small dump truck with a plow, two pick-up trucks with plows and one backhoe, at times seemed to be fighting a losing battle, Keiser said.

“We had a problem with roads getting snowed in again after they’d been plowed,” he said. “And it could take up to an hour to take care of one individual road adequately.”

Heavy machinery was out in force last weekend. Public works crews stayed on the job from Saturday night through Monday morning to clear island roads and parking lots. Photo by Don Miller Heavy machinery was out in force last weekend. Public works crews stayed on the job from Saturday night through Monday morning to clear island roads and parking lots. Photo by Don Miller Overall, Keiser said, the process went smoothly, thanks to the cooperation of island residents.

“People were very cooperative and very patient,” he said.

Keiser also praised the town’s new highway barn.

“It was our first real test in a winter storm,” he said. “It was nice to have maintenance facili- ties to do immediate repairs to equipment, as well as a place for people to take a short rest, get some coffee and have some food. The new facility worked out beyond expectations.”

Though the storm brought much of the white stuff, it didn’t bring much in the way of accidents. The Jamestown Police Department reported no major incidents — just a few cars off the road.

Onne van der Wal, an island photographer who specializes in nautical, sailing and yacht photography, captured some stunning aerial scenes during a helicopter trip after last weekend’s blizzard. At top is a view of the Great Creek intersected by North Main Road. At bottom is a view of Horsehead on Highland Drive. To see more aerial shots by van der Wal, visit www.vanderwal.com. Photos by Onne van der Wal Onne van der Wal, an island photographer who specializes in nautical, sailing and yacht photography, captured some stunning aerial scenes during a helicopter trip after last weekend’s blizzard. At top is a view of the Great Creek intersected by North Main Road. At bottom is a view of Horsehead on Highland Drive. To see more aerial shots by van der Wal, visit www.vanderwal.com. Photos by Onne van der Wal The anticipation of the storm also meant good news for some of the island’s retailers.

Scott Sherman, owner of Jamestown Hardware, recorded one of his best sales days ever on Saturday.

“I’ve been cutting payroll and I had one of my sons stay home,” he said. “That day, I wished I had four more people. It was one of those days where you just stayed at the register.”

Sherman said he sold approximately 50 shovels, eventually running out, along with 80 bags of ice melt, lanterns, batteries and one item that surprised him: Rakes.

“You have 100 customers looking for shovels and ice scrapers,” he said. “But a few people came looking for rakes and leaf bags.”

In general, Sherman said, islanders seemed ready for this blizzard.

“People came in all day and were really prepared to weather the storm,” he said.

John Williamson, grocery manager for McQuade’s Marketplace, also reported strong sales in anticipation of the storm.

“A lot of our Sunday business came in on Saturday,” he said. “We were very busy on Saturday, busier than normal, but we even opened on Sunday. We had a few people struggle in.”

When asked if shelves were cleared, Williamson said that inventory is back to normal now.

“We’ve replenished,” he said. “But the bread men did very well.”

Although the roads were passable by Monday morning, some island children rejoiced when school was cancelled that day.

Superintendent Marcia Lukon said that after a discussion with the school’s director of buildings and grounds, she made the call that it just wasn’t safe to put the buses on the road.

“The side streets were too icy and the parking lots were like ice skating rinks,” she said. “The snow was also drifting up against the doors of the buildings.”

In fact, she said, so much snow had drifted up against Melrose School that you couldn’t even see the doors – or the windows of the kindergarten classrooms.

Although island students got a break, that wasn’t the case for students who attend North Kingstown High School. Their classes were simply delayed.

“I always try to check in with Superintendent Phil Thornton to see what he’s doing,” Lukon said. “Obviously, he had different conditions over in North Kingstown.”

On Tuesday morning, town crews were busy clearing sidewalks on Narragansett Avenue – sidewalks that just the day before had featured only narrow tunnellike passages. Plenty of snow remains, however, for those looking forward to a white Christmas.

And as for the rest of the winter?

“We can’t make a prediction for the winter based on just one storm,” said Strauss of the National Weather Service. “But given the weather pattern and the El Nino phenomenon we’re experiencing, I expect a stormier than normal winter. Whether that will be rain or snow, we don’t know.”

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