EAST PROVIDENCE – With whiteout conditions expected across much of the region, the McKee administration is working with neighboring states to forbid tractor trailers from using the roads during the nor’easter on Saturday and is considering a general travel ban across Rhode Island.
“It’s got the potential to be dangerous white-out conditions so the number one thing we can do is prepare now so we can stay home Saturday,” Gov. Daniel McKee said Friday morning.
On a visit to the Department of Transportation’s maintenance yard in East Providence, as workers loaded sand into trucks nearby, McKee warned that 12 to 18 inches of snow is expected in Rhode Island and that accompanying high winds could cause power outages. Later, the National Weather Service increased the forecast to 18 to 24 inches across nearly all of Rhode Island.
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The DOT was readying a fleet of 150 state-owned plow trucks to go to work when the storm hits Saturday morning and has agreements in place with another 350 trucks operated by private vendors. They will start pre-treating roads with sand and salt on Friday in advance of the storm.
National Grid, which operates the bulk of the electric system in Rhode Island, has also brought in more forestry and line crews to respond to the storm. The company has more than 3,600 workers on standby in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
McKee said that all state-run COVID vaccination and testing sites will be closed on Saturday. People with appointments will have the chance to reschedule. The 24-hour site at the Community College of Rhode Island campus in Warwick will close on Friday at 6 p.m.
Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, who accompanied McKee to East Providence along with DOT director Peter Alviti, urged anyone in need of food, shelter or other essential resources to call the United Way of Rhode Island’s helpline at 211.
“This storm is very serious so make sure to take the precautions that you need to keep you and your family safe,” she said.
DOT Director Peter Alviti said that the snow is expected to fall at such a high rate, as much as a couple inches per hour, that snow plows won’t be able to clear it all immediately.
“The storm will be very intense very quickly,” he said. “So not only will be it difficult for our plow operators to see and do their job, but it’s going to be more difficult for people traveling on the roads.”
His agency is in talks with counterparts in Connecticut and Massachusetts to keep tractor trailers off the roads probably from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Alviti said. The DOT is also recommending a ban on all drivers, he said. An additional storm briefing is planned for 4:15 p.m.
“This is for everyone’s safety,” he said. “In order to provide safe travel, not only for our plow operators but for emergency vehicles tomorrow, it looks like we will be instituting those two bans.”
Glen Place, co-owner of Tom’s Market in Warren, said customers are “buying food like its Armageddon.”
“I question whether they can get all of this into their refrigerators,” he said Friday. “They are buying things to make pizza, cans and cans of tomato sauce, ice cream, gelato, Boston cream pie. Everything is going out of the door.”
The phone is also ringing off the hook, with customers asking if they have fresh veggies, cereal or grapes.
Fortunately, Tom’s Market just got a big produce delivery today, and, as of 1 p.m., the store still had milk and bread.
Besides the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Place said Friday is one of the busiest days he has seen.
Urban Greens, a high-end food coop in Providence, was also seeing long lines and high demand.
General manager John Santos said Friday sales were twice as strong as Thursday.
What are people buying?
“Everything,” he said. “Prepared foods, desserts, flowers. We are well-stocked. Everything across the board is flying off the shelves.”
Susan Budlong, a spokeswoman for Dave’s Market, said, “Our stores are humming along! We have plenty of staff, and plenty of product. Our buyers secured additional trucks of milk, eggs and bread – with more than enough back stock. Our shelves are good as well – our local wholesaler jumped through hoops and provided additional full deliveries this week of products.
“Unless there are manufacturing issues, we are fully stocked. Customers have been in good humor, and as always our employees are on their A game!”
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is urging city residents to stay home all day Saturday, and says they should get any supplies they need today. He said he is considering declaring a state of emergency in the city.
Elorza said Department of Public Works trucks were already out sanding and salting the roads on Friday afternoon, and said they would continue to be out into Sunday.
The DPW will have up to 110 trucks on the road at any given moment on Saturday, Elorza said.
Police Chief Col. Hugh T. Clements Jr. echoed the mayor’s call for people to stay off the roads.
“One car abandoned in the middle of the road will tie up public safety,” he said.
“This storm is the real deal,” Clements said. “You’re talking heavy snow, wind gusts, power outages.”
A national youth cheerleading competition scheduled at the Rhode Island Convention Center is still scheduled to go forward this weekend. Elorza said he expected the event could still occur safely because competitors will be staying in hotel rooms.
Block Island Police Chief Matthew Moynihan said his officers will be checking in on the elderly during Saturday’s storm, making sure they have what they need.
“We made some calls and some visits today,” he said Friday. “We have about 50 elderly residents. They may need some extra assistance. They can also reach out to us.”
Moynihan wears another hat, director of public works, which makes it easy to coordinate plows and police patrols.
“We’re following the track of the storm like everyone else,” he said. “We are in continuous contact with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency. We expect a significant impact.”
When you live on island, you can expect the personal touch even from the local utility company.
Block Island Utility President Jeffrey M. Wright sent out emails to the island’s 1,000 year-round residents.
“It will be an ‘epic’ storm according to our meteorologist,” he wrote.
“You should all be prepared for the worst, which would be a multiple-day power outage. We are going to do our best to respond to outages as soon as it’s safe, but travel will be nearly impossible during the event and even during the days after the storm. Snow drifts will be a major barrier to travel.”
He told locals to call (401) 466-5851 to report outages and the police at (401) 466-3220 to report emergencies.
“Be prepared folks, warm your homes up, charge your devices, stay inside tomorrow and be safe,” Wright wrote. “If you live on the end of a road that is subject to drifting you may want to think about moving somewhere safer tonight to ride the storm out.”
McKee was set to be in Washington, D.C. this weekend for the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association, but he decided to stay in Rhode Island to direct the storm response.
“This is the top priority,” he said. “I’m here through the storm and prepared to make sure the people out there are safe.”
Rhode Island is now under a blizzard warning for a powerful nor’easter will likely drop 18 to 24 inches of snow Saturday, drive wind gusts up to 60 mph and flood coastal areas, according to the National Weather Service.
The blizzard warning is in effect for all of Saturday. The National Weather Service issued the blizzard warning at 9:40 a.m., replacing a winter storm warning.
Snowfall rates of 2 to 4 inches per hour are possible at times, and travel “could be very difficult to impossible,” the Weather Service says.
For a full weather report:Storm likely to drop 18 to 24 inches of snow; travel could be ‘impossible’
The Providence Performing Arts Center has canceled both performances of “Jesus Christ Superstar” that were scheduled Saturday.
“The safety of our audiences, cast, and crew remains our top priority,” the theater and the touring company said in a joint statement. “We regret any disappointment this scheduling change has created for patrons.”
PPAC said ticket holders would be automatically refunded through their original method of payment.
Towns in Rhode Island currently under a parking band:
- There will be a citywide parking ban beginning at 2:00 am on Saturday, January 29, which will remain in effect until further notice.
- A 48-hour parking ban will take effect at 8:00 pm on January 28th. The Warwick police note, “We will be strictly enforcing this ban and we will be towing vehicles found in violation. Please note that this ban includes any privately owned vehicles that are left or stored on city or school property.”
- East Providence
- A parking ban will be in effect beginning Friday, January 28, at 8:00 pm and will remain in place until further notice.
- A parking ban will be in effect beginning Friday, January 28, at 12:00 pm and will remain in place until Sunday at 6:00 am.
- West Warwick
- The parking ban will begin at 9:00 pm Friday and remain in place until further notice.
- A parking ban will be in effect from 9:00 pm Friday until further notice.
- A parking ban this weekend begins at 6:00 pm on Friday and ends Sunday 1/30 at 12:00 noon
- The parking ban will begin at 8:00 pm Friday and remain in place until further notice.
- The parking ban will begin at 11:00 pm Friday and remain in place until further notice
National Grid says it has more than 3,600 field-based personnel across New England prepared to respond to power failures from the coming storm.
“We’ve been tracking the storm for several days and making the necessary preparations for a safe and efficient response to address its impact,” said Michael McCallan, vice president of New England electric operations, maintenance and construction, in a news release. “As part of our emergency response plan, we have secured additional overhead and forestry crews and will be coordinating our joint response with state agencies and municipalities across Massachusetts and Rhode Island.”
Customers can report power failures at nationalgridus.com or by calling (800) 465-1212.