Can anything end this ‘Groundhog Day’ of a winter?

Posted Feb. 01, 2011, at 6:22 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 01, 2011, at 3:27 p.m.
 snow removal crew cleans up the street in the Southie neighborhood of Boston, Monday afternoon, Jan. 31, 2011. The area is expecting another mid-week winter storm.
AP
snow removal crew cleans up the street in the Southie neighborhood of Boston, Monday afternoon, Jan. 31, 2011. The area is expecting another mid-week winter storm.

“You want a prediction about the weather? You’re asking the wrong Phil,” Bill Murray’s character says in the movie “Groundhog Day.” He continues, “I’ll give you a winter prediction: It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be gray, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.”

That sounds about right for Maine, where people are once again reaching for shovels, cities are preparing fleets of snow plows and parents are fretting over a new round of school cancellations as another strong winter storm sweeps in.

The National Weather Service says another 9 to 13 inches of snow is likely to accumulate in Maine by Wednesday evening. After that, more snow, more cold, more wind expected for later this week, next week — the rest of your life.

For the Northeast this winter, the premise of “Groundhog Day” — about a weatherman who wakes up each morning in Punxsutawney, Pa., to the same miserable, snowy Feb. 2 — is far from fiction.

“It’s always the same thing,” said Bob Reid, owner of Beakon Plowing Service in East Hartford, Conn., who has been seeing parallels with the movie for weeks. “The night before the storm, people park in the streets, and we tow them. The trucks haven’t stopped.”

One storm after another has clobbered the region since a post-Christmas blizzard that paralyzed much of the East Coast. In Hartford, which had its snowiest month ever in January, the storms have dumped 6 feet of snow — nearly three times the normal amount for this point in the season.

Adding to the illusion of one long, uninterrupted winter slog are temperatures that have stubbornly remained below freezing and kept mountainous snowbanks from melting. The latest winter storm was blanketing the Midwest with snow and ice before moving on to New England, combining with another system to deliver a one-two punch Tuesday and Wednesday.

By now, some winter-weary residents are at last perfecting their pre-storm preparations, not putting much stock in whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow Wednesday morning at Gobblers Knob.

“It’s a routine now. The night before, we move the cars to one section of the driveway so the plows can come through, we have shovels by either door, and we check on elderly relatives,” said Rep. Larry Cafero, leader of the Republican minority in Connecticut’s House.

But the weather has gone beyond nuisance, he said.

“This is really affecting commerce, our economy, the pace of business,” said Cafero, who noted the legislative session scheduled for Wednesday had already been canceled ahead of the expected storms. “I can’t tell you how many coffee shops and newspaper stands and retail stores are hurting. On top of the economy and everything else they’re dealing with, the weather is killing them.”

In the 1993 film, the dour weatherman played by Bill Murray breaks the loop after learning his actions can affect the outcome. For Northerners, the cycle may end only with spring.

“It’s tough to know when it will turn off,” said Bill Simpson, a meteorologist with the weather service in Taunton, Mass. While the snowfall is far above normal, he said, the region sees similarly active seasons every five to 10 years, such as the record 115.2 inches that fell in the 1995-96 season.

For crews struggling to clear snow-choked roadways, the task has become more difficult with each storm, because there is less room to put all the snow.

On the bright side, Connecticut has already treated the roads with so much salt and calcium chloride that it reactivates when another storm hits, said Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the state transportation department.

“As a spokesman for the DOT, not doing manual labor, I haven’t gotten much sleep,” he said, “so you can only imagine what my guys are going through.”

At least, unlike poor Phil, they’re not jolted awake every morning by Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe.”

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