New Hampshire watches for coastal flooding as nor’easter buffets the state

CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire’s Seacoast was expecting more than 30 inches of snow in some swatches, strong winds, possible coastal flooding, and offshore seas of 25 to 30 feet as a ferocious nor’easter buffeted the state, according to the National Weather Service.

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan declared a state of emergency late Friday afternoon. She urged residents to get off the roads by 7 p.m. Friday and remain at their destinations until the storm tapers off Saturday afternoon.

But Hassan did not issue an outright ban on driving as her Massachusetts counterpart, Governor Deval Patrick, did.

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“It’s really important that we make sure we do what we always do in the Granite State, which is use our judgment and make sure people have the opportunity to get where they need to be,” Hassan said, speaking at a press conference at the state Incident Planning and Operations Center in Concord on Friday.

Colonel Robert L. Quinn of the State Police urged drivers to use common sense to remain safe.

“It’s quite simple—drive slow, don’t follow too close, give yourself enough time and stay focused,” he said.

Nearly all flights in and out of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport were cancelled as of 4 p.m. Friday. The University of New Hampshire in Durham curtailed operations. State liquor stores were scheduled to close by 6 p.m. Friday.

James C. Van Dongen, a spokesman for the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said winds were the main concern. But, by Friday evening, none of the state’s four utility companies reported any problems.

Van Dongen said a Massachusetts-style ban on driving did not seem necessary. During Hurricane Sandy, he said, state police found that most residents kept off the roads as advised by then-Governor John Lynch. Friday night, the roads were mostly empty.

Emergency officials are closely monitoring the Seacoast, which is expected to bear the brunt of the storm and could experience high winds, dangerous waves, and coastal flooding. The state closed its beaches Friday morning.

At Shirley by the Sea Inn and Motel, which faces the ocean at Hampton Beach, owner Annmarie Clemence reported near white-out conditions about 5:30 p.m. Friday.

“Not much to see but snow and wind, mostly drifting right now,” she said. “You can tell by the wind it’s going to be pretty bad later.”

The mood was giddy at New Hampshire’s ski resorts, still recovering from last year’s snow drought.

“It’s excellent for the industry, an incredible holiday set-up for school vacation week, a week from this weekend,” said Thomas Prindle, director of marketing for Attitash Mountain Resort in Bartlett and Wildcat Mountain in Pinkham Notch.

He said he doubted the Massachusetts driving ban would interfere much with the weekend’s business. Winter storm advisories arrived on Wednesday, he said, and many schools announced Thursday night they would be closed the next day. So there was ample time for skiers and snowboarders to get to the mountains before the snow hit. Friday, he said, was as busy as a weekend day on the slopes.

The cold, dry flakes are “almost the type of snow you see in Utah,” Prindle said. “Almost what they call champagne powder. It’s great.”

New Hampshire had 310 state plow trucks working on the roads Friday, plus 437 more hired trucks at the ready, said Christopher Clement, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation.

He said New Hampshire has 128,000 tons of road salt on hand—a major blizzard typically requires 5,000 to 7,000 tons—and 93 fueling stations positioned around the state to make sure the trucks have the fuel they need if gas stations close.

In Portsmouth, some restaurants and bars shuttered early, but others pushed into the night.

“A lot of people have called us and asked if we’re staying open, and we are,” said Olivia Scala, a host at the Flatbread Company in Portsmouth, where the wood-fired pizza oven was going strong in the early evening. “We’re going to try to stay open till around 9 p.m., depending on how the storm treats us and whether we have power.”

The Portsmouth Brewery on Market Street was still serving up pints, too.

“The wind is picking up like crazy,” said Tyler Havrilko, who works in the brewery’s retail store. “We’re expecting the worst.”

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