By DOUG ALDEN New Hampshire Union Leader and KIMBERLY HOUGHTON Union Leade Correspondent
MANCHESTER - Mayor Ted Gatsas' hope that today's blizzard would fall short of predictions faded on Friday as the sky grew darker.
The outlook was grim and only got worse as the snow started falling at a steady rate in the afternoon.
"We're prepared and we're ready to go," Gatsas said after a noon news briefing at the Manchester Fire Department. "We're hoping for the best but prepared for the worst."
The city declared a snow emergency, banning all parking on city streets, starting at 10 p.m. Friday, and running until Sunday at noon.
Six television screens on one wall at the fire station board room were all tuned into the weather and none gave any indication that the storm would be anything less than a blizzard and the worst snow storm the city has seen in years.
"The biggest concern is people are going to think that they can travel through two feet of snow and they're out moving vehicles around," Gatsas said.
The city was also anticipating that high winds would knock down tree limbs and take out power lines, leading to additional dangers. Beds were being set up at Memorial High School if an emergency shelter is needed and crews were prepared to handle any downed lines, which Gatsas emphasized should be left to the experts.
"Don't touch any of the wires that you see. Make the phone call," Gatsas said. "We'll be prepared to get people out and handle whatever we need to handle."
Fire Chief James Burkish said the city's Emergency Operations Center would be staffed 24 hours a day until the storm ended. The EOC could be reached at 668-3116 for residents with a problem to report. Gatsas said updates would also be posted at the city's website, www.manchesternh.gov.
Burkish also warned people who planned to use generators in the event of a power outage to be sure to set up the gas-powered machines 10 feet away from their home to ensure proper ventilation. With the snow totals expected to exceed a foot or more, the high accumulation and drifting could block vents, Burkish said.
"If we're out on a call and we hear a generator running, a fire truck will stop by and make sure that it's properly operating," Burkish said. "We've had carbon monoxide incidents almost in every storm like this. It's very dangerous and we're very concerned."
Manchester Transit Authority planned to continue service throughout the storm, although some delays were expected as the weather got worse. Service updates were available at the MTA homepage http://www.mtabus.org.
City schools on Thursday were scheduled to release early Friday, but Superintendent Tom Brennan decided Thursday night to cancel classes altogether.
"The kids would be leaving right about now and that's when it's getting a little dicey out there so we decided to go full cancellation," Brennan said Friday afternoon. "I was holding off as long as I could, but the more reports I received the more I realized that we'd be putting them right in the middle of this type of storm."
Brennan said a group of city high school students would be riding the storm out in Orlando, Fla., where they are attending a DECA conference. The conference is scheduled to wrap up Sunday, but the 18 Memorial High School students, five from Manchester School of Technology and four chaperones were told they wouldn't be able to fly back to Manchester until Wednesday at the earliest.
"Everyone's fine. It's just that they're going to be there at least right now until Wednesday," Brennan said.
The school closures were the first of many throughout the city. Gatsas said City Hall would close at 3 p.m. Friday. The Manchester Monarchs moved their annual "Pink in the Rink" game from tonight to Tuesday due to the storm. The breast cancer awareness event features players wearing pink jerseys and skating on pink ice.
The SEE Science Center also postponed the opening of a new dinosaur exhibit to Sunday.
'Challenging' in Nashua
Nashua's snow emergency began at 2 p.m. on Friday and was to be lifted at 7 tonight.
With the National Weather Service anticipating one to two inches of snow per hour until about 3 p.m. today, "it is very challenging to keep streets clear with snowfall of this magnitude," says the release issued by Justin Kates, director of emergency management in Nashua. "If possible, please remain off the roads during this time for your safety and to make room for equipment working to keep roads open."
Parking on the street and in the municipal surface lots is prohibited during the snow emergency. However, Kates stressed that free parking will be available at the Elm Street and High Street parking garages during the emergency. Vehicles not removed from the streets will be towed, and owners will be fined up to $295 to retrieve their vehicles from the Solid Waste Department landfill. Cars may be picked up during the storm until 10 a.m. on Sunday, or during normal business hours, says the release. "Depending on the duration of the storm and snowfall amounts, crews may need extensive time once the storm ends to clean all street and sidewalk routes," Kates said in the statement.
There is a Public Works snow line available at 589-4795, which will provide residents with up-to-date information on the storm. Crews are asking citizens to be patient as they work around the clock to clear the snow. The Nashua Transit System canceled night service on Friday. Today, the buses will not begin until noon. For additional information about the Nashua Transit System during the storm, call 880-0100.
Kates reminds residents to use 911 only for emergencies, to stay off the roads, have an emergency kit available, check on neighbors and family, report power outages by calling Public Service of New Hampshire at 1-800-662-7764, clear the streets of any snow removal obstructions and stay informed by visiting www.nashuanh.gov.
"Preparedness is everyone's responsibility. Take the time to ensure that you and your family will be safe during this winter storm," says the release.