February 08. 2013 9:19PM

Wicked weather tests mettle of Granite Staters

Union Leader Correspondent

A line forms as Bill Morin, who, along with his son, owns Morin's Service Station pumps gas in Manchester on Friday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

A pro snow blower makes the rounds on Cushing Street in Nashua early Saturday afternoon. (Simón Rios/Union Leader Correspondent)

HAMPTON - Rob Hunt knew the blizzard was going to be bad when he showed up at Jumpin Jacks Java and found owner Nick Birmbas wearing sweatpants.

Birmbas wears shorts year-round, but decided it was best to leave them home when he headed off to work at his café on Ocean Boulevard in Hampton.

The café is one of the few places open on the beach during the winter months and Birmbas said he had no plans to close today. He also expects to stick to his 6 a.m. opening time.

"As long as we have power I'll be here," he said Friday.

But whether he'll be able to make it to work is another story.

Forecasters said the potentially historic storm could cripple southeastern New Hampshire with more than two feet of snow.

Blizzard warnings were expanded Friday morning across all of Rockingham and Strafford counties and eastern Hillsborough County through 4 p.m. Saturday as heavy snow and winds gusting up to 50 mph or higher were expected to create whiteout conditions.

"Certainly this is going to be one of the more significant storms that has hit the state in quite a while," said John Jensenius, warning-coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.

Snow began falling early Friday morning and was expected to become heavy overnight with blizzard conditions keeping plow truck operators busy.

By the time the storm winds down Saturday afternoon, Jensenius said southern parts of the state and the Seacoast could be digging out from between 20 and 30 inches of wind-blown snow.

Up to a foot of snow is expected to fall in northern New Hampshire.

A coastal flood warning also remained in effect for the New Hampshire coastline Saturday for the threat of moderate to major coastal flooding.

Jensenius said coastal flooding is a serious concern with a storm surge of 1.5 to 2.5 feet at the time of this morning's high tide, around 10 a.m.

Despite the threat, Hampton Police Chief Jamie Sullivan - who is also the town's emergency management director - said there were no plans to evacuate residents from low-lying areas and other places where flooding could be a problem.

For coastal residents, this massive storm brought back memories of the great Blizzard of '78. Long-time Hampton residents Jim Davies and his wife, Barbara Stone, remember that storm well. They live on Ocean Boulevard, not far from North Beach.

"I remember seeing a Volkswagen on top of another car," Stone said.

The deep floodwaters back then lifted the vehicle off the ground and made quite a mess. They're keeping their fingers crossed that this blizzard won't be a repeat.

"Hope for the best," Stone said.

While power companies were preparing for possible outages from the strong winds, Jensenius said he wasn't expecting widespread problems.

"The snow is light and dry and fluffy so it won't be sticking," he said. "The ground is frozen and that should work to our benefit to stabilize trees."

Meanwhile, the blizzard forced schools to close Friday, and many businesses that didn't shut down let their workers leave early to get them off the roads before the worst of the storm moved in.

All state beaches on the Seacoast have also been closed until Sunday morning.

But before things went downhill, many people took advantage of the calm before the storm by taking a walk or jog along the ocean.

Colorado residents Chris Greer and his fiancée, Kate Leary, joined Leary's father, Mark, of Raymond and Ed the boxer dog for some playtime with a ball. The couple arrived in New Hampshire for a visit Thursday night and planned to stay until Tuesday.

While Greer, a Colorado native, has experienced snowstorms before, he said he's never seen a New England blizzard and was pretty excited.

Inside Jumpin Jacks Java, customers sipped on their coffees and munched on muffins and bagels as they watched the angry seas that continued to build throughout the day.

Hunt, who arrived for his coffee in the morning, said he planned to spend Friday wiring up portable generators for homeowners worried about losing power.

Hunt owns Coastal Electric Service in Hampton and is also often contracted by Public Service of New Hampshire to help restore power during outages.

After the paralyzing ice storm of 2008, the windstorm of 2010, the Halloween nor'easter of 2011, and Hurricane Sandy last year, Hunt said, "It's surprising to me that people still call because you would think everyone has a generator by now."

Paula Wood of Seabrook wasn't too worried about the blizzard because the snow was expected to be light and shouldn't leave too much weight on the roof of her mobile home.

She also didn't join the crowds that hit the grocery stores to stock up on milk and other foods.

"I don't have a generator so I'm not going to stock my refrigerator," said Wood, who was armed with her camera and planned to grab some shots at the beach.