A stubborn weather system with freezing temperatures and cold winds broke daily records for snow in Boston and Providence Thursday while forcing the cancellation of some COVID-19 testing and keeping thousands of children home for remote-schooling.
In a region wracked by the once-in-a-lifetime coronavirus pandemic, officials and residents found themselves engaged in a familiar New England ritual, braving the elements and clearing the snow. Boston City Hall was closed, non-essential state workers did not have to report for work, and state courts shuttered their doors.
The first snowstorm of the season was also one of the most powerful to hit Massachusetts and the region in several years. It left local public works crews in Fitchburg wrestling with the removal of 15.5 inches of snow while numerus communities across the state received between 10 and 14 inches of snow, the National Weather Service said.
The storm arrived Wednesday night and was winding down in the western and central parts of the state and is now expected to ease off in the remaining sections of the state between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., forecasters said.
But officials cautioned that people should still be careful. Temperatures are steadily dropping into the 20s statewide, making travel on sidewalks and highways hazardous due to ice. Numerous crashes and spinouts were reported by local and State Police throughout Thursday, and officials continued to urge the public to stay home if possible.
In Boston, 12.5 inches of snow were recorded Thursday, breaking the record for the day of 6.4 inches set in 2013, the National Weather Service said. Providence also crossed a historic, though less dramatic, threshold - getting 5.8 inches compared with the previous record of 4 inches in 1961, the weather service said.
The snowfall over the past two days may mean Massachusetts will have a white Christmas. Megnia said a long-range forecast foresees rain Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, but that could well change. And temperatures will be on the colder side, keeping the snowpack intact, he said.
“Snow on the ground for Christmas is still a possibility,” he said Thursday afternoon.
Power outages were relatively minor Thursday, and utilities crews worked quickly to restore service, according to outage tracking by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. At one point, 8,000 customers were without power, but that had dropped to about 600 around noontime.
The T has canceled ferry service, is running multiple bus routes on snow routes, and has experienced some delays on the subway and commuter rail lines, where service was reduced Monday because of the pandemic, not the weather.
The weather service reported the freezing temperatures arrived around 10 a.m. Thursday.
Speeds on the Mass Pike have been cut to 40 miles per hour between mile marker 59.6 in Palmer and the New York border as of 12:35 p.m. Thursday, State Police said.
State Police spokesman David Procopio said there were two tractor-trailer jackknife incidents in Western and Central Massachusetts but no serious injuries. Procopio also reported there were some spinouts on Interstate 95 but no major incidents with traffic volume very low.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who has spent the past several months discussing the harrowing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, said the city did not foresee any life-threatening dangers from the largest snowfall to arrive in some five years. COVID-19 testing is canceled for Thursday in Boston, he said.
Shifting to a lighter tone, Walsh expressed sympathy for the city’s 54,000 Boston Public School students who were required to attend remotely Thursday.
“The one thing that’s unfortunate this year is the poor kids didn’t get a snow day,’' he said. “We didn’t do that because of the situation we are in ... They would have loved it, a potential two-dayer, maybe ... Thinking back to when I was a kid, I loved it.”
Remote learning does end two hours early Thursday, he said.
Boston, like many other communities, has declared a snow emergency that brings with it parking bans. For the city specifically, the emergency rule also means that residents who shovel out parking spots on city streets can claim them as their own — but only for 48 hours after the emergency is lifted.
During past storms, there have been some tensions among neighbors over parking spots.
“It’s been a long year for a lot of people,” Walsh said. “I am hoping we can be respectful to one another. I hope we stay civil with each other. Nobody has had it easy during this time of COVID.”
Walsh said he would decide later Thursday if he needs to continue — or end — the emergency declaration. City Hall is closed and the mayor urged residents to stay home or use public transportation if they needed to move about the city.
Walsh also said he was checking to make sure that food pantries in the city are adequately stocked to deal with the consequences of the storm at the same time they are dealing with the spike in unemployment due to economic upheaval from the pandemic.
He also urged residents to shovel out fire hydrants and crosswalks whenever possible.
At Logan International Airport, there were more than 100 flight cancellations, but crews were working hard to keep runways clear, Massport spokeswoman Jennifer Mehigan said.
She said in an e-mail, “We did have some flights this morning and expect to be ready for flights later this afternoon,” and suggested passengers check with their airlines for flight status information.
Around Massachusetts, first responders turned to social media to report the impact of the storm on their communities. Around 11:30 a.m., Sharon police posted that trees were down in spots across town, and urged motorists and pedestrians to be aware of the challenging conditions.
Earlier Thursday, Auburn police posted about a motor vehicle crash.
Boston Public Works said it had more than 700 pieces of equipment clearing city streets early Thursday morning.
Boston firefighters encouraged residents to stay off the road due to hazardous conditions, and encouraged people to drive slowly if they do have to travel.
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