Published January 03. 2014 4:00AM Updated January 04. 2014 12:06AM
Bitter temperatures, fierce wind gusts and dry, fluffy snow are anticipated for today, as the year's first snowstorm hits the region.
Local towns and cities began preparing Thursday: dispatching public works crews, banning on-street parking and urging drivers to stay off roads or drive cautiously.
Around 7:30 p.m., as the snow began to fall in New London, most cities and towns in southeastern Connecticut announced that schools will be closed today.
A National Weather Service winter storm warning will remain in effect until 1 p.m. today, as forecasters anticipate between 6 inches and a foot of snow. The NWS on Thursday forecast that wind chills today could produce "the most frigid conditions the area has experienced in years."
While snowfall will likely end at 8 or 10 a.m., strong gusts of winds will continue to blow back snow into cleared areas, predicted Gary Lessor, assistant director of the Weather Center at Western Connecticut State University.
He projected Thursday that the extreme cold will produce dry, fluffy snow that high-speed wind gusts can easily blow around.
For most of the day, the wind chill will be between 5 above and 5 below. But as temperatures continue to drop into the evening, northern cities, such as Norwich, could see a wind chill of between 0 and 15 below, he said.
"In all likelihood, we have not seen the kind of cold weather that we are going to see in the next couple of days in as many as 15 to 18 years," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday during a storm briefing. "It was 2004 the last time that we had zero degree temperatures. People are not used to this cold."
Malloy dismissed state employees on Thursday afternoon to lessen traffic and announced a 9:30 a.m. delayed opening today for nonessential government employees. Since Wednesday, Malloy has advised residents needing shelter to call 2-1-1.
"Everyone should expect delays," during the Friday morning commute, Malloy said.
Beginning Thursday night and continuing into this morning's commute, 832 trucks, including 200 private contractors, will plow state highways, said Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick.
Nursick said drivers should stay off the roads, if they can. Drivers needing to travel should proceed slowly and cautiously: a 20-minute commute may take 30 to 35 minutes this morning, he said.
"Give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go, and that will make for a safer travel for everyone else," said Nursick.
The DOT could not pre-treat state roads and bridges Thursday since the treatment could freeze in the cold temperatures, explained Nursick. However, residual salt treatment from earlier storms on the roads form a barrier against the snow and prevent the snow from freezing to the roadways, he said.
Amtrak will have a lighter schedule today. Acela Express and Northeast Regional service will run between Boston and Washington, but there will be fewer trains, especially in New England, according to a company press release. Amtrak customer service is notifying travelers whose reservations need to be changed. Refunds and travel vouchers are available for travelers choosing not to travel today, according to Amtrak.
"Our public works department is fully staffed and they have been out and about putting sand down," said Ledyard Mayoral Assistant Mark Bancroft on Thursday. He said the mayor and staff met with the emergency management director and have plans in place should the town need to open a warming center.
East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica also said his town was fully staffed for the storm. "We brought in the crews early this morning at 2 a.m. to pre-salt the roads," he said. He said the town is maintaining a full crew overnight from Thursday to today.
Residents in need of shelter are asked to call the emergency operations center, but the town has not yet received such calls, Formica said.
Norwich Emergency Management Director Gene Arters said Thursday that Kelly Middle School has been placed on standby as a shelter, and the Emergency Operations Center will be activated as needed. He asked residents to check on the elderly and those needing special services. He also recommended restricting morning travel to emergency traffic only.
The extreme cold could produce powdery snow that residents may find easy to shovel, Arters said. Looking ahead to rain forecast for Monday, he asked residents to shovel snow away from their homes' foundation to prevent basement flooding.
"The crews have been out all day and into tomorrow," Preston First Selectman Bob Congdon said Thursday. He said the trucks were ready to go as soon as the snow hit.
North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas Mullane said that with the "fluffy" nature of the expected snowfall, this storm will be a "piece of cake."
"Five to 10 inches of powdery snow is not a showstopper," he said.
The town's roads were salted and sanded as of Thursday afternoon, but the town has taken no additional measures for emergency operations or shelters. Residents here are more than prepared, he said.
"North Stonington probably has as much emergency generators as they have guns," Mullane said.
In Waterford, a full public works crew will tackle all areas as the storm ramps up, said Public Works Director Kristin Zawacki on Thursday. Salt may not dissolve snow as easily in cold temperatures, so she urged residents to drive slowly.
State courthouses and judicial branch offices will have a delayed opening, at 10 a.m. All jurors scheduled to appear in a state court today have been excused from duty, the judicial branch announced.
Stonington Town Hall and the town's transfer station will be closed today. Trash pickup will be late today or Saturday morning, according to First Selectman Ed Haberek's Facebook page.
Old Lyme Town Hall will open at 10 a.m. to allow for time to clear the parking lot and streets. Residents are advised to call ahead in case the opening needs to be further delayed.
The Salem library is closed today.
The University of Connecticut canceled all classes scheduled for Thursday evening and today, except for online courses, according to a press release. The university rescheduled Thursday's classes for Sunday and today's classes for Saturday, and will hold the classes at the same time and place.
School closings will be posted on www.theday.com, as they are announced.
Staff writers Kelly Catalfamo, Anna Isaacs and Colin A. Young contributed to this report.