December 20. 2013 8:35PM

State bracing for ice storm

Union Leader Correspondent

New Hampshire residents are being warned to take precautions with the growing threat of a damaging ice storm snapping tree limbs and knocking out power tonight and Sunday.

"It's certainly going to be some nasty weather. There could be significant ice accumulations, dangerous driving conditions and power outages," said Steve Capriola, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.

The threat has prompted utility companies across the state to line up more crews to respond quickly if outages occur.

Gov. Maggie Hassan also announced Friday that the state's Emergency Operations Center would open to handle the storm.

The worst of the storm is expected to hit overnight into Sunday when parts of the state will experience a prolonged period of freezing rain.

Northern and central areas could see ice accumulations of up to a half-inch or even more, Capriola said.

Ice buildup on trees and power lines would likely lead to power outages, officials warned.

The southern extent of the icing was still not clear Friday night. Capriola said southern New Hampshire will likely see more rain than freezing rain.

Still, with the historic ice storm of 2008 fresh in the minds of many residents, officials and utility companies urged all to prepare by stocking up on storm supplies like batteries, flashlights, water, and gas for generators.

"While there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the forecast, the potential for a significant ice storm this weekend means we must make preparations and take every precaution to support local communities," Hassan said in a statement.

Public Service of New Hampshire, the state's largest utility, is bringing in more than 250 additional line workers and support personnel from Northern Utilities' sister companies along with 300 additional tree workers.

The crews are expected to arrive in the state early Saturday night to join PSNH's 200 line workers and about 200 tree workers, PSNH said.

Manchester-Boston Regional Airport is allowing its parking lot to serve as a primary staging area to receive and deploy the additional crews.

Similar steps were being taken by other utility companies, including New Hampshire Electric Co-op.

"Ice is really public enemy No. 1 when it comes to power outages," said company spokesman Seth Wheeler.

NHEC has secured 20 additional line crews and 27 tree crews to help out.

The company also made sure that it has enough fuses and other supplies needed during a restoration.

Hampton-based Unitil, which also serves customers in the Concord area, has also reached out to third party contractors and secured 70 tree and bucket crews and an additional 50 "wires down and damage assessment support staff" to provide assistance. It will also open its regional emergency operations center in Concord Sunday morning, according to Unitil media relations manager Alec O'Meara said.

The storm will also likely spoil travel plans for some holiday shoppers and others looking to head north to enjoy events and other festivities before Christmas.

"That's one of the things we always have to cope with, the weather in New Hampshire, but we're also very fortunate that we have a proactive Department of Transportation that does an excellent job on our roads," said Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The holiday season is always a busy time, with shoppers flocking to North Conway's outlet stores and other shops.

Fortunately, with Christmas only a few days away, Crawford said the busiest shopping period is over.

"This weekend being so close to Christmas there's a likelihood that people are all set," she said, adding that the holiday shopping season in the region is promoted through Dec. 15.

The storm may prompt some people who visit their second homes or other getaway places in the area this weekend to decide to stay through Christmas, she said.