With two days of stormy weather finally subsiding, cars slipped, slid, and spun out this afternoon on icy roads as temperatures plummeted into the 20s just in time for rush hour, but no fatalities or serious injuries were reported, State Police said.
The temperature dropped from 36 degrees shortly before 1 p.m. to 27 degrees just after 2 p.m. at Logan International Airport, according to the weather service. By 5 p.m. the temperature was 24.
Governor Deval Patrick said at an afternoon news conference that the freezing roads were a "big concern now.” He suggested that people stay off the roads so highway crews can work on them. “It’s best, if you can, to stay indoors while we get the roads as cleared as possible, and salted and sanded," he said.
Sergeant Michael Popovics, a State Police spokesman, said shortly before 6 p.m. that trouble spots included Northeastern Massachusetts, the Boston area, and Route 3 in Southeastern Massachusetts.
He echoed the governor's advice to stay off the road. "If you have to be on the road, reduce your speed ... and increase your distance between vehicles," he said.
Traffic cameras indicated many people had taken officials' advice and stayed home. "The lesser volume that we have the better it is for the crews to be out there working," Popovics said.
The "flash freeze" came after Massachusetts saw the second of two back-to-back storms change from snow to rain. Officials said the storm posed dangers not just on the roads, but to people's roofs, which might collapse under the weight of the snow and rain.
Jim Notchey, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said that as much as an inch of rain would fall in Boston and coastal areas. He said that normally a day with one inch of rain is insignificant. “But when you combine it with any snow that is already on the roofs or on the trees and power lines, it’s just going to add to the weight,’’ he said. “Then it becomes a weight issue.’’
The two storms dumped more than a foot of snow on some areas of the state before ending today, according to the weather service. The highest total, 15.3 inches, was recorded in Grafton. A total of 10.2 inches was recorded in Boston by 1 p.m. There was already a thick layer of snow on many roofs from a punishing series of winter storms during January.
“They are widespread, and we are telling people to be very, very careful,” Heffernan said.
People who hear cracking sounds or see buckling in their roofs should “leave the premises immediately,” she added.
Thirty-four roof collapses had been reported by 5 p.m. around the state, but there were no reports of injuries, said Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency spokesman Peter Judge.
Those turning to public transportation to avoid the icy roads also faced challenges today. Throughout the day, the T reported numerous problems on its subway lines and changed numerous bus routes for safety reasons. The Mattapan trolley line was closed until the afternoon.
In another blow to commuters, MBTA managers, who had hoped to leave the afternoon commuter train schedule unchanged, announced they were altering the schedule for the Lowell and Newburyport/Rockport lines. More changes are possible, the T said.
"Personnel will be closely monitoring equipment and infrastructure such as switches as temperatures drop and water turns to ice,'' MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail. Work crews "are being deployed throughout the rapid transit and commuter rail systems to address frozen switches or any other weather-related track issues.''
Logan International Airport remained open this afternoon, said airport spokesman Phil Orlandella, but few flights were arriving or departing. He said the snow has now turned to freezing rain, and that crews are treating runways with chemicals to prevent icing.
Orlandella said some 900 flights had been canceled today. JetBlue canceled all its operations and American Airlines has canceled outbound flights, he said.
State Police dealt this morning with multiple tractor-trailer crashes on the Massachusetts Turnpike, where the speed limit was reduced to 40 miles per hour. No injuries were reported, but traffic was affected in the Millbury and Auburn areas by the cleanup.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation said it mobilized some 3,500 pieces of equipment on the highways. The department said late this morning as the rain drenched the state that there were numerous reports of roadway flooding, including ramps on the major artery Interstate 93.
Federal courthouses in South Boston, Worcester, and Springfield are closed as are hundreds of school systems and colleges.
The weather service is warning of more trouble on Saturday when another storm is expected to arrive.
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