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Southern towns brace for another nor’easter

Union Leader Correspondent

March 21. 2018 10:46PM
John Cianciulli, left, and Joe Brooks with the Derry Public Works maintenance department inspect an 11-ton municipal truck up on a lift Wednesday morning from the highway garage. Derry’s DPW crews examined and prepped all maintenance vehicles in anticipation of another potential snowstorm. (CHRIS GAROFOLO/UNION LEADER correspondent)

Rob Brown, of Brown Brothers Construction, replaces a spreader chain on his company truck early Wednesday morning at the Derry DPW garage in preparation for another winter storm. (CHRIS GAROFOLO/UNION LEADER)

Not long ago David Wholley and his public works crews wrapped up their work days in February during some unseasonably warm afternoons and began fantasying about baseball.

“And when we flipped the calendar to March, Mother Nature recognized ‘I have to fit winter in here real quick’ and decided to unleash all that she had for us,” said Wholley, the deputy director of Salem’s Department of Public Works. “Fortunately with March, we’ve had some good melt-off, but not as much as I’d like to see for this time of year, especially being a baseball coach.”

Southern New Hampshire is in line for another wintry mix that could dump another few inches of snow from Wednesday evening into Thursday. DPW crews in the Merrimack Valley have barely been able to catch their breath after a series of monster nor’easters on March 7 and again on the 13th, dropping three feet of snow in some towns.

“I have us at 81 inches for the season, though we had almost received the entire amount of snowfall this season in that one week time,” Wholley said.

A majority of Salem was without power earlier this month after the town was slammed with heavy, wet snow that led to downed wires and tree limbs, making cleanup challenging for Wholley’s 27 workers and vehicles. Salem crews went 36 straight hours of clearing roadways ahead of the March 13 town elections. Teams also provided hourly updates on social media sites.

“The equipment and the employees have been taking quite a beating obviously dealing with all the ramifications of both of those events,” he said.

An additional 1,000 tones of sand has been delivered to Salem in preparation, Wholley continued, and all the equipment is “up and ready” for the next storm.

In Derry, crews prepped late Tuesday night into Wednesday morning for the latest round of winter weather. DPW Director Mike Fowler said their custom weather service has shown the total volume has dropped since the initial reports of 6-to-10 inches.

“I think the difficult part is this storm has wandered all over the place as far as predictions,” he said. “The good news is it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be the 24 inches like we had last week, or even 12 inches like the storm before.”

The back-to-back nor’easters have been exhausting for plow drivers, but they have had the weekend to recover and are as battle-tested as any team in the region, Fowler added. He expects sometime in mid-April to report to the Town Council with the status of the winter budget — Derry was $250,000 over budget last year and Fowler expects the numbers to skyrocket after this month’s weather.

“There’s no doubt that when we do the final tally, we are going to be overspent in virtually all of the components that make up our snow removal budget,” Fowler said. “It’s been a challenge dealing with the temperatures and the variable weather, but that’s New England and that’s what we deal with on a yearly basis.”

Hudson Road Agent Kevin Burns said his overtime and salt money has dried up.

“I’m pretty low on the salt, I have enough sand to get through,” he said. “With the salt, we ration it until the end of the storm, then we use it to clean up. Normally if we’d have a full bed we’d use it during the storm to keep things more wet instead of white, but now we’re kind of holding it until the end.”

Burns has been with the department for 35 years, and does not plan to shovel a single snowflake after this winter. On Tuesday, nearly every member of the Hudson DPW sat in the break room watching coverage of the upcoming storm.

“Most of them are ready for spring,” Burns said, although the crews find a silver-lining when the paychecks come with healthy overtime credits. “They don’t like doing the hours. During the last two storms we did 30 hours straight, but they have a smile on their face the next Thursday morning.”

Public Safety Weather Derry Hudson Salem

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