(TNS) - Warning that the state is in the path of a weather system dubbed a "bomb cyclone" that promises snow, heavy wind and the coldest temperatures seen in decades, "if ever," Gov. Gina Raimondo called Wednesday night for Rhode Islanders to keep off the roads Thursday and to stay either at home or somewhere nearby with power and heat.
"Please make plans now, tonight, for what you would do if you lose power," Raimondo said.
Speaking at the headquarters of the Rhode Island Emergency Management in Cranston, Raimondo did not announce a state of emergency. But she said she would continue to consider that option as she monitors conditions. She anticipates a foot of snow on Thursday and "incredibly low" temperatures below zero early Friday.
"As your governor, I am asking you, I am imploring you to stay home tomorrow," Raimondo said at a late-day press conference. "Let us do our work."
Raimondo and others discussed wind-related power outages and the heavy snow that will slow down utility crews, while the dangerously cold temperatures will pose a hazard to people who lose heat.
"There will be power outages," said Raimondo, who was accompanied by National Grid executive Tim Horan, president of its Rhode Island jurisdiction.
Horan said more than 170 line crews were poised to go to work. In addition, the utility has 55 crews for handling trees and 30 crews for underground utilities and other crews are on the way, he said.
"We will work through the outages as safely as we can as quickly as we can but if this wind is high and the snow is blowing it's going to be very dangerous and treacherous for our folks to get out there," he said.
Crews are arriving in Rhode Island at 10 p.m. and deploying by 6 a.m.
"We are expecting a Type 3 storm, which carries the potential for 9 percent of our customers [approximately 50,000 customers] to be out of power," said National Grid spokesman Ted Kresse.
National Grid came under heavy criticism for its tepid response to a late-October storm that pummeled the state with sustained winds of 60 mph, much higher than predicted. Three days later, almost 21,000 customers were still without power, and state leaders were calling for a comprehensive review of the utility's response to the outages.
"We have more lead time with this storm," Kresse said, "We can have these additional crews in place. In October, the [storm]'s quick timing didn't allow us to have as many crews in place."
In addition to the line crews, National Grid will turn its meter readers into "wires down" crews, whose jobs will be to identify downed wires and secure the area.
Citing safety concerns, Kresse cautioned that utility crews are not able to launch bucket trucks when there are sustained winds exceeding 35 miles per hour.
The state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers is monitoring the preparations of the state's electric utilities and will work with them if outages occur.
The state Office of Energy Resources will track fuel deliveries into the Port of Providence and help respond if any of the terminals lose power and are unable to pump fuel.
With blizzard-like conditions expected for part of the storm, the state Department of Transportation has 140 plows ready and 450 private vendors available to clear the roads.
The deadly cold following the storm may create even more misery, with temperatures expected to plummet Friday, possibly to 20 below zero with the wind chill, making the resolution of power outages more critical, according to the National Weather Service.
"A major concern is the cold weather coming in right behind the blizzard," Kresse said. "This is really going to be a team effort, working with state agencies and local municipalities."
Peter Gaynor, the executive director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, said that emergency officials are urging people to plan where they'll find warm shelter if they lose power.
"People have to make a plan today ...," Gaynor said Wednesday afternoon. "Find a friend. Find a neighbor." And, if necessary, get to your closest warming center, he said.
Gaynor said he'd asked all of the local emergency management directors to locate warming centers in their communities. The list is at http://www.riema.ri.gov/warmingcenters/index.php.
Gaynor urged residents to be prepared before the first snowflake falls. Once the storm starts, he said, "People need to be patient and reasonable."
Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that all state offices will be closed Thursday, and all public and private schools in the state will be closed as well. For a listing of closings in Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts, as well as parking bans, go to ribroadcasters.com/News_and_Events/Closings_Delays/.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island can pass the salt.
As state and local highway officials buckled down Wednesday with preparations for the nor'easter, a Newport bulk carrier announced that it had done its part to deliver salt for the highways and byways of Southern New England. The M/V Bulk Newport, owned by Phoenix Bulk Carriers, delivered 50,000 metric tons of deicing salt from Egypt to Narragansett Bay a few days before Christmas.
The cargo was headed for the aptly named Saltine Warrior Inc. of Fall River, Massachusetts.
Storm safety tips:
— Never touch downed power lines, and always assume that any fallen lines are live electric wires. If you see one, report it immediately to National Grid or your local emergency-response organization.
— Power problems can sometimes interrupt public water supply systems or disable well pumps, so it's a good idea to keep a supply of bottled drinking water handy, as well as some canned food.
— People who depend on electric-powered life-support equipment, such as a respirator, should let National Grid know. To register as a life-support customer, call the company's Customer Service Center at (800) 322-3223.
— Check on elderly family members, neighbors and others who may need assistance during an outage period.
— Make sure you can heat at least one room if your power or furnace goes out.
— Know how to shut off water valves.
Report power outages at nationalgridus.com/OutageCentral or call: (800) 465-1212
With reports from Amanda Milkovits and Alex Kuffner
On Twitter: @lborgprojocom
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