Snow fell at the rate of 2- and 3- inches per hour overnight Friday into Saturday, as the Blizzard of 2013 bore down on the region.  Here, Ayer Town Hall
Snow fell at the rate of 2- and 3- inches per hour overnight Friday into Saturday, as the Blizzard of 2013 bore down on the region. Here, Ayer Town Hall is carpeted in snow in the early morning hours Saturday. (Courtesy photo/John MacDonald)

AYER - Ayer fared well as Nemo swam off into the record books. The Blizzard of 2013 blew through the area with hurricane force winds overnight Friday through Saturday, dumping more than two feet of snow.

Much of the muscle came in a three-fold attack launched by the Ayer Public Works, Fire and Police Departments.

Ayer Fire Chief Robert Pedrazzi, the town's emergency preparedness director, convened a meeting of public safety officials on Friday "just to make sure we were all on the same page." Preparations began days earlier in terms of fueling trucks and ensuring generators were ready to go.

Meteorologists promised snow accumulations of epic proportions. Food and fuel began to sell out at stores and stations across the region.

Thankfully, Ayer never lost power, making Nemo a markedly different storm than the pre-Halloween "Frankenstorm" of last fall which plunged households and businesses into sustained darkness. Pedrazzi adds that there were no major fires or emergency events during the blizzard, either.

With snow falling at the rate of 2 and 3 inches an hour, the Ayer DPW had all divisions out on the streets to tackle the rest of the public thoroughfares. Mark Wetzel said 17 DPW workers were out on equipment. "Everybody works," said Wetzel.

Unlike the Halloween storm, "we didn't have any problems with down trees or power failures," said Wetzel. Another huge help came in the form of the state-wide travel ban imposed by emergency Executive Order by Governor Deval Patrick, which kept roads free of most vehicles from 4 p.m. Friday through 4 p.m. Saturday.

"The DPW did a great job," said Wetzel. "We have guys who do it right the first time and take pride in what they do. I was really proud of them. This was my first big storm but they communicate as a team. If a small truck can't get something, a loader comes over and takes care of it right way. They work really well together."

The Fire Department plowed the Ayer Police to free the DPW for roadwork. Pedrazzi said Ayer Fire Capt. Tim Johnston and Lt.

The bread isle at the Hannaford Supermarket in Ayer was picked clean in advance of the Blizzard of 2013.
The bread isle at the Hannaford Supermarket in Ayer was picked clean in advance of the Blizzard of 2013. (Courtesy photo/Karen Gibbons)
Robert Bozek alternated overnight runs to Park Street on Friday night into Saturday. "They plowed it at 1 a.m. They got up at 3 o'clock to go out again. They said they could barely keep up with it," said Pedrazzi.

Overnight Tuesday, the DPW was to scheduled to remove snow from downtown sidewalks. Wetzel said contracted trailers were to haul the snow to the DPW headquarters on Brook Street.

"It's going to be a lot of work," predicted Wetzel. "And they have to do a lot of hand shoveling around the posts and streetscape. It's a lot of work and a long night. We tried doing it during the day in the past but operations are slower and traffic gets backed up."

Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said Pedrazzi's pre-storm meeting helped bring all the resources together. The town planned for the potential need for an emergency shelter for residents without power. "Fortunately, we didn't need that."

"All of the credit goes to the public safety folks," said Pontbriand. "The dispatchers, the plow truck drivers, the fire, police and ambulance crews deserve all the credit."

"The wind turned out to be a blessing," said Pontbriand. "Many roofs have no snow left on them." Pontbriand recalled the extra time and expense needed following the early Feb. 2011 snow and ice storms where emergency efforts were needed to shovel heavy snow loads off the school roofs.

And Pontbriand said a major change for this storm was the implementation of social media through Ayer IT Coordinator Cindy Knox.

Ayer DPW Highway Foreman Doug Jaspersen snapped this photo while plowing Saturday along West Main Street.  All DPW employees from all divisions were
Ayer DPW Highway Foreman Doug Jaspersen snapped this photo while plowing Saturday along West Main Street. All DPW employees from all divisions were deployed to help in the snow fight. (Courtesy photo/Doug Jaspersen)
Emergency messages and information was transmitted via Facebook, Twitter and posted on the town's website. The Ayer Police Department also sent out alerts via Nixle.com text messaging services.

"The ongoing challenge for Ayer and other communities is the issue of communication when the power goes out. Granted some have charged devices and clear wireless signals but usually when the power goes out, it gets tough," said Pontbriand. With this storm, the power stayed on "so we were in good shape."

Pontbriand echoed a Facebook message initiated by the Ayer Fire Department- "adopt" a hydrant by shoveling it out. "We're asking residents and businesses if they have a fire hydrant on or near their property to clear it," said Pontbriand.  "In the event of an emergency, it's lost time having to dig out a hydrant."

WBZ Boston pegs Nemo as the third worst in Worcester history with 28.5 inches of snowfall. The first modern snow accumulation record was the March 31 through April 1, 1997 storm with 33 inches measured in Worcester; the second worst storm was from Dec. 11 through 12, 1992 with 32.1 inches recorded in Worcester.

That may be - but for Pedrazzi the biggie remains the Blizzard of '78.

"I was a call guy in 1978. I was in the old [Washington Street fire] station overnight on the second story," recalled Pedrazzi. At that time, he'd just purchased a new truck which he'd parked at the lot across the street.

"The next morning I looked out the window and I said 'Hey -where's my truck? My truck's gone! The snow buried the truck," said Pedrazzi. "That storm was a lot worse."

Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.