NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – At 6 a.m. Saturday morning, weary snowplow drivers in Northbridge and around the commonwealth eagerly welcomed daylight.
In the overnight hours, falling and wind-blown snow made their job almost impossible. “At times, visibility was zero,’’ said Highway Superintendent Robert Van Meter as he plowed Quaker Street on his way to the Shining Rock community.
Usually snow can be plowed while driving about 30 mph, he said. The average speed Friday night into Saturday morning, as plow drivers fought against the blizzard of 2013, was 5 mph, he said.
“Sometimes we had to completely stop because we couldn’t see anything,’’ Van Meter said.
In addition, with snow falling at a rate of up to 3 inches per hour and drifting and blowing, the same roads had to be plowed over and over again just to keep them passable.
As a result, Van Meter and his crew were behind schedule as the sun rose and they began the process of “pushing back.’’ In that process, plow drivers start widening the road with the goal of clearing it curb to curb.
The job of sidewalk plowing would have to wait until Sunday after he and his crew had a chance to sleep after working 30 for more hours.
The snow-removal operation began Friday morning at around 9, the start of the storm, with the spreading salt and sand. That keeps the roads from icing over at the start of the storm.
Once snowfall gets heavy, however, salt and sand won’t work, Van Meter explained. Sand gets covered by snow and ice can’t melt the snow fast enough. The only effective tool is the plow.
For Robert Van Meter, the Blizzard of 2013, also known as Nemo, will go down in his history as the worst he’s ever seen. He was in the service, not a Department of Public Works employee, during the Blizzard of 1978, to which this weekend’s storm is being compared.
In addition to Van Meter, six Department of Public Works employees, three waste water treatment plant employees and 15 independent contractors were on the town’s 82 miles of road all night, each assigned a specific area.
Van Meter said he saw few people violating the governor’s travel ban, which will be lifted Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.