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As snowstorm winds down, R.I. coastal flooding expected; tractor-trailer ban lifted

Schools, state offices, and city buildings in Providence closed as snow fell in Rhode Island. A winter storm warning is in effect for parts of the state until 7 p.m. Follow along for updates.

Nelson Taylor, of Providence, R.I., cross-country skis his way along a residential street, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, in Providence. Parts of the Northeast have been hit by a coastal storm that's dumping snow and packing strong winds in some areas, while others aren't getting as much snow as anticipated.Steven Senne/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — With the storm winding down Tuesday afternoon, communities along Narragansett Bay are seeing coastal flooding, and the state has lifted its tractor-trailer ban and continues to clear and treat state roads and highways.

Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay at Quonset Point both have reached minor flood stage, according to the National Weather Service, and “major flooding” is expected in the Rhode Island communities of North Kingstown, Prudence Island, and East Greenwich.

“Flooding of numerous homes, businesses and roadways are expected,” NWS said.

“The combination of high tides and wave action may force evacuations of some lower lying areas. Alternate routes may be required as coastal roads become impassable,” NWS said.


Flooding is likely across coastal sections of Newport and Middletown. Areas that are near flood stage include Narragansett Bay at Providence’s Fox Point, Narragansett Bay at Conimicut Light, and Watch Hill Cove, the weather service said.

In addition, “road closures and localized evacuations are likely in parts of Westerly and Charlestown,” NWS said.

The weather service said flooding would be widespread across communities along Narragansett Bay, and evacuations are likely for a period of a few hours around high tide Tuesday night, which will be around 11 p.m.

“Flooding will impact Mount Hope Bay as well,” NWS said.

Inland, the Pawtuxet River is Cranston is also expected to rise. The NWS called it a “serious and potentially life threatening flood situation,” and said evacuations are likely in Warwick, West Warwick, as well as Cranston.

Because of the storm, the Rhode Island House of Representatives cancelled its legislative session, all General Assembly meetings and events were rescheduled, and schools across Rhode Island were closed or doing distance learning on Tuesday.

Western parts of Rhode Island saw higher snowfall rates compared to the rest of the state. According to reports made to the National Weather Service, Scituate received 10.5 inches by 2:45 p.m., Foster received 10 inches by 1 p.m, the Burrillville village of Harrisville received 9 inches by 1:31 p.m, Richmond received 9 inches by 1 p.m., West Warwick received 8.5 inches by 2:30 p.m., and North Kingstown received 7 inches by 1 p.m. Follow our snowfall tracker, which automatically updates with the latest readings from the National Weather Service.


Governor Dan McKee announced that state offices would be closed on Tuesday. He tweeted at around 7 a.m. “strongly urging” Rhode Islanders to stay off the road.

“While road conditions may not look too bad right now, the most significant accumulation is expected to begin at 9 a.m. and continue throughout most of the afternoon,” he wrote. “Let the plows do their jobs. Be safe.”

McKee said the state prepared 450 plows and 60,000 tons of salt for the storm. Rhode Island Energy also brought in 75 additional line crews and forestry teams, the governor said. But by 2:30 p.m., McKee lifted a tractor-trailer ban on state roads and highways that had been in effect since midnight.

Schools, recreation centers, and city buildings in Providence were closed for the day on Tuesday, and Mayor Brett Smiley announced a parking ban for the city as well as delayed trash pickup. He also asked residents to avoid driving.

”If you must work in person, please consider leaving 30 minutes to 1 hour earlier than usual to ensure you have time to travel safely,” he tweeted.


In Cumberland Tuesday morning, plow trucks moved to wipe about two inches of slushy, wet snow from the roadways, as the storm produced a wintry mix that teetered on the brink of rain shortly after sunrise.

Cumberland Mayor Jeffrey Mutter was cautiously optimistic that storm could underproduce, but said he wasn’t ready to say “this isn’t going to be bad.”

”I hate to jump the gun, right? I hate to say it and all hell will break lose,” he said. “It’s less than I anticipated for sure. It’s really wet and slushy, but so far so good. When I was checking the forecast at 6 a.m. they said it was going to pick up somewhere between 9 a.m. and noon. It’s looking like it’s a lot less than we thought, but that’s OK.”

Snow on the ground is rapidly melting and draining into the nearby Blackstone River, which crested at 3.35 feet and was expected to drop. The river has crested twice above 13 feet in the past several months but was not expected to rise much due to this storm.

Storm warning until 7 p.m., few power outages

A winter storm warning was in effect for parts of northern Rhode Island from Tuesday morning until 7 p.m. Tuesday evening, according to the National Weather Service.

Just before 5 p.m. Tuesday, about 500 households were affected by power outages, with about a fifth of them in Exeter, according to the Rhode Island Energy’s outage map. A list of emergency shelters can be found on the state’s Emergency Management Agency website.


See the full list of New England power outages here.

Businesses, streets quiet in downtown Providence

In Providence, life came to a standstill Tuesday as school was cancelled and government officials closed City Hall, state offices and courthouses.

Streets were deserted the usually bustling Downtown and Jewelry District neighborhoods. Few businesses were open, but a handful of construction workers were still working on the state health lab.

A ban on street-parking was in effect starting at midnight, and the city was towing vehicles Tuesday morning, according to city spokesperson Josh Estrella.

The parking ban was the first one to be in place since Mayor Smiley took office in January 2023. Smiley has been reluctant to implement parking bans during previous storms because of the inconvenience to residents.

Smiley urged people to stay off the roads and work from home if possible, as plow trucks worked to clear city streets. There were 53 city plow trucks and 35 private vendors handling snow removal Tuesday, Estrella said. Due to a shortage in drivers with CDL licenses, the private vendors are mostly small trucks that don’t require the special license.

Non-essential city workers were given a paid day off, Estrella said.

PC will play, in spite of the storm

While classes have been canceled at Providence College, basketball will still be played tonight.

The men’s basketball team is hosting St. John’s at 7 p.m. at the Amica Mutual Pavilion, as former Friars’ coach Rick Pitino makes his much-anticipated return to Providence leading the Red Storm.


Pitino and St. John’s players arrived in Providence Monday ahead of the snow, so the teams will be allowed to play a crucial Big East game even though Rhode Island is expected to be blitzed with snow throughout the day.

The game will be aired on the CBS Sports Network.

Legislative session cancelled Tuesday

The Rhode Island House of Representatives cancelled its legislative session Tuesday, and all General Assembly meetings and events for the day will be rescheduled, though Wednesday and Thursday committee meetings will be held as posted.

Washington Bridge will be cleared of snow

During an oversight hearing Monday night, RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. told legislators that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation is prepared to clear the eastbound side of the Washington Bridge, which is seeing heavy traffic while the westbound side remains closed due to structural problems.

Alviti said RIDOT has the resources and a plan in place to remove snow quickly from the span. But, he said, “This is a tough storm that’s coming.”

While the state has handled bigger storms in the past, Alviti said, ”this is going to come at a critical time of day. It’s going to come midday, which will give people early in their commutes a false sense of security, and then it is going to intensify midday into pretty much a whiteout condition that will not only make it difficult for people to drive in but even for our own crews to stay ahead of.”

Roads slick, bus routes detoured

Roads across the state were slick with snow and ice Tuesday, Department of Transportation traffic cameras showed.

”Travel could be very difficult,” the weather service said on its website. “The hazardous conditions could impact the morning or evening commute.”

By 9 a.m., the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority announced that seven routes — 18, 27, 35, 55, 56, 64 and 88 — would be detoured Tuesday because of the winter storm, and warned that riders may expect some delays on all routes due to weather conditions. Riders were advised to use extreme caution at bus stops due to decreased visibility and slippery conditions.

”The safety of our employees and passengers is RIPTA’s top priority,” the agency said. “RIPTA apologizes for the inconvenience and asks for the public’s understanding as we work hard to maintain service during this storm.”

Rhode Island Blood Center urgently calls for donors

The Rhode Island Blood Center is issuing an urgent call for donors Tuesday, after the snowstorm resulted in the closure of all donor centers and cancellation of all mobile drives, resulting in the loss of nearly 400 donations.

“This is the first time in several years that a weather event has forced the full closure of all donor activities at RIBC, which will have a tremendous impact on the local blood supply,” said Beau Tompkins, vice president of Rhode Island Blood Center.

“I am personally asking that everyone roll up their sleeves and come out to donate when safe, so we can ensure there will be blood on the shelves for patients to receive life-saving treatment.”

The storm could prove to be the first in a one-two punch for the blood center, as next week marks February vacation for many schools in the area, which is also a difficult time for donations, due to travel and changes in parents’ work schedules.

Additionally, the nation is facing a 50 percent decline in youth blood donors, who account for at least 25 percent of the blood supply.

“Patients are in need of blood transfusions every two seconds and that need cannot take a snow day,” said Caitlin Grimaldi-Flick, marketing and communications manager for Rhode Island Blood Center. “This is a unique opportunity to be part of an elite group of heroes by donating blood and saving lives in our community.”

The blood center is urging everyone to donate at least once per season in 2024, and encouraging donors to book their next appointments. To make an appointment, call (401) 453-8383 or visit ribc.org.

The fluffy, wet snow that fell Tuesday at Blackstone River State Park in Lincoln, R.I., turned snowballs into mud people. Carlos R. Muñoz / Globe Staff

Though storm lacked punch, it’s good snowball snow

Tuesday’s snowstorm lacked the punch most forecasters had predicted, but it left a coat of fluffy wet snow that packed like clay and was perfect for making snowballs, snow forts, and snow people.

The lack of snow depth and a layer of water drew dirt from the ground and turned snowballs into mudmen — typifying this winter’s cycle of rain, mud, and flooding.

Even though Tuesday’s winter storm didn’t materialize into a power nor’easter, temperatures hovered around 30 degrees, which experts say is perfect for packing snow.

Tom Niziol, a meteorologist at The Weather Channel, said the best conditions for snowman-making happen around 31 degrees.

“When the temperature is sitting around that freezing mark, it’s really perfect because it holds enough water so you can make a nice compact snowball or a snowman,” Niziol said in a YouTube video on making a snowman.

“If the temperature is much colder, you get a drier and a fluffier snowfall. It’s great for skiing but not very good for snowman making.”

Alexa Gagosz, Steph Machado, Dan McGowan and Carlos Muñoz of the Globe Rhode Island staff contributed to this report.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.

Brittany Bowker can be reached at brittany.bowker@globe.com. Follow her @brittbowker and also on Instagram @brittbowker. Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.