On the road - most of the time - during a whiteout

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Chief of staff Ray Studley was first to volunteer.

“I’ll get out and push,” he said.

“I knew I should have brought my coat,” said Mayor Scott Avedisian from the front seat of the Chevy Tahoe.

Studley is a big man, and if anyone was going to get the Tahoe back on semi-plowed pavement he was going to do it. He leaned into the door. The wind-whipped snow was sucked into the cab, but it wasn’t anything like the curtains that obscured the road ahead. For an instant Studley disappeared; then he was at the front, hands against his chest and putting all his weight against the Tahoe. Department of Public Works director Rick Crenca gave it the gas. There was a slight rocking, but even with 4-wheel drive it wasn’t moving. They took a break and tried again. Nothing.

This started out as a Thursday noon excursion to assess storm conditions, but quickly transitioned into a rescue mission at the entrance to Conimicut Point Park. Just beyond the gate, a man was futilely shoveling to free his car. A second car was behind him, also apparently snowbound. Wisely, its driver remained inside his vehicle.

What were these people doing at the point – taking pictures, sightseeing although this was a whiteout? Surely, they weren’t fishing or walking their dogs.

Crenca used the radio to call Denise Levine at dispatch. It was the first call of the sortie, although he had been monitoring transmissions from across the city. He knew of the truck with the broken plow and picked up on complaints that streets hadn’t been cleared when, in fact, just minutes earlier a plow had cleared a path.

While Crenca was kept abreast of the hot spots, Avedisian called Marisa Albanese of National Grid for an update on power outages. He relayed the information that there were only 41 scattered outages statewide, which Albanese said was usual on a non-storm day. Earlier Warwick Public Library director Christopher LaRoux reported that no one was using the facility as a warming station and that he would be sending the staff home, but would stay on should anyone need refuge.

“That’s the kind of people we have,” Avedisian said.

Not surprisingly, since he lived for storms like this when he would drive the road grader, retired DPW director David Picozzi volunteered to assist the snow clearing effort. Avedisian didn’t take him up on the offer, although he knew Picozzi would get a laugh over the current predicament.

Crenca got back on the radio.

“Unfortunately,” he informed Levine, “we now have three vehicles stuck down here in Conimicut.” Levine acknowledged the request; a plow was on the way.

Roads were clear of traffic and that was a good thing because they were filled with snow. Curbs disappeared and, if it wasn’t for the occasional tree and utility pole it was difficult to know just where the pavement was. It was the wind-driven snow, however, that proved most challenging. It came in gusts reducing visibility to less than 100 feet, like a sheet pulled over the landscape.

A few daring drivers, their flashers blinking, crept on major arteries. Others, less fearful or perhaps, better put foolhardy, proceeded without even their headlights on, skating down the road. Some police had their lights flashing – which made them easy to see and follow.

“She took some heat on it,” Avedisian said of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s admonition Wednesday night to stay off the roads, “but it was the right thing.”

The pre-storm hype had its impact. Supermarkets were packed Wednesday and some service stations ran out of fuel.

In anticipation, Avedisian said he was up at 3 a.m. Of course, as it turned out that was about five hours before Grayson (Since when do they name snowstorms?) kicked into gear. By 5 a.m. Avedisian was at Planet Fitness. Other than staff, he was the only one there.

“By this time you feel like it’s a full day,” he said.

Glancing in the rear-view mirror, Crenca reported a plow had arrived. Studley suggested with a rope or chain the truck could pull the Tahoe.

The plow crew had another plan. They dug snow from the wheels. Still the Tahoe was snowbound. With the plow blade lowered they pulled snow from the rear of the vehicle and then all three of them joined in hand pushing. We were free.

What about the other two vehicles, the mayor wanted to know. One of the plow crew waved to indicate they weren’t going to do anything.

Crenca laughed. “That’s his father,” he explained of one of the two drivers stuck in the park.

“Only in Rhode Island,” said Avedisian.

But, naturally, they got them out.

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