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Winter just won’t let go
Daniel Kittredge and John Howell

Spring has officially arrived, and temperatures climbed to fit the season for at least a few days last week.

The long, cold winter has taken its toll on roads and local budgets, however, and Rhode Island isn’t out of the woods quite yet, with more cold and two to four inches of snow in the forecast for tomorrow.

“We’re in good shape if it snows,” David Picozzi, acting director of Warwick Public Works, said yesterday. He said the city has 150 tons of salt on hand as well as an ample supply of sand.

“Usually by St. Paddy’s Day it’s over,” Picozzi said of winter.

And at this point the department focuses on street and sidewalk sweeping and starting the spring routine of yard waste collections. Those activities have started, although, at the same time, Picozzi hasn’t put away all the snow removal equipment.

This winter has also put the city’s snow removal budget into the red. Picozzi budgeted $365,000 for snow removal. As of yesterday, $540,000 has been spent on overtime, outside contractors and salt and sand. It’s not been the kind of winter we’re accustomed to.

“The whole winter’s primarily featured sustained cold,” said David Vallee, hydrologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service’s Northeast River Forecast Center. “It’s going to take a while for us to get out of that.”

While cold temperatures over the last three months have been lower than average, Vallee said the season did not set records in that regard. For the state, he said, December was a degree below average, while January was 2.5 degrees lower than the norm. February was 3.6 degrees lower than average, and March thus far has been 4.6 degrees colder than a standard year.

In terms of snowfall, Vallee said his agency’s figures show eight to 12 more inches than in a typical year. T.F. Green Airport in Warwick received 43 inches of snow, while Cumberland received 53 inches.

The prevailing pattern for the winter, Vallee said, has involved “fast-moving weather systems” rather than the slow-moving storms that result in major accumulation.

“We’ve seen moderate systems,” he said. “They haven’t been the blockbuster systems” like those of 2010.

From a flooding perspective, he said, that has been beneficial, resulting in less long-term snow cover and water levels.

“For our area, the concern is a little bit lower than normal at present,” he said. “The rivers and streams are about where they should be at this point in this year.”

Vallee said his agency updates the flood watch status every two weeks and that it will be important for the area to “green up” – reducing soil moisture and the volume of runoff – before the risk becomes lower.

“This is when we’re most vulnerable every year,” he said, noting that March 16-22 was designated Flood Safety Awareness Week and one significant weather system – a “catalyst,” such as major back-to-back rain storms – can alter the prevailing regime.

Vallee said the expectation is that the “persistent cold” will finally fade at the end of the month, bringing “a little bit more seasonable temperatures.”

While the prevailing pattern of the winter’s weather has at present reduced the risk of flooding, it has caused major headaches for municipalities. Storms moved quickly but were frequent, spreading out the above-average snowfall across many weather events and straining budgets for plowing and road treatment.

Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena said his community has been forced to significantly overspend its snow and ice budget, likely in excess of $250,000. The impact also extends beyond the immediate costs.

“It’s done damage to our roads, it’s done damage to our vehicles,” he said.


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