Weathering the Uncertainty: Area May Have Avoided Worst, But Tire Shops Saw a Rush

  • Elizabeth Korman, left,and Ashlee May walk to the Haven on Nov. 27, 2013 in Hartford, Vt. The women live in Wilder and are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints -- they volunteer at the Haven once a week. They were walking because on days when the weather is hazardous their car is grounded so as not to drive on bad roads. Korman is from Washington and May from Utah.  <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Elizabeth Korman, left,and Ashlee May walk to the Haven on Nov. 27, 2013 in Hartford, Vt. The women live in Wilder and are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints -- they volunteer at the Haven once a week. They were walking because on days when the weather is hazardous their car is grounded so as not to drive on bad roads. Korman is from Washington and May from Utah.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jonathan Welch installs winter tires for a customer at Interstate Tire in West Lebanon, N.H. on November 27, 2013. The shop is experiencing the beginning of the winter tire rush. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Jonathan Welch installs winter tires for a customer at Interstate Tire in West Lebanon, N.H. on November 27, 2013. The shop is experiencing the beginning of the winter tire rush. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Winter tires ordered by customers await their owners at Interstate Tire in West Lebanon, N.H. on November 27, 2013. The shop is experiencing the beginning of the winter tire rush. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Winter tires ordered by customers await their owners at Interstate Tire in West Lebanon, N.H. on November 27, 2013. The shop is experiencing the beginning of the winter tire rush. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Elizabeth Korman, left,and Ashlee May walk to the Haven on Nov. 27, 2013 in Hartford, Vt. The women live in Wilder and are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints -- they volunteer at the Haven once a week. They were walking because on days when the weather is hazardous their car is grounded so as not to drive on bad roads. Korman is from Washington and May from Utah.  <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Jonathan Welch installs winter tires for a customer at Interstate Tire in West Lebanon, N.H. on November 27, 2013. The shop is experiencing the beginning of the winter tire rush. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Winter tires ordered by customers await their owners at Interstate Tire in West Lebanon, N.H. on November 27, 2013. The shop is experiencing the beginning of the winter tire rush. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

West Lebanon — At 1 p.m. Wednesday, a hand-drawn sign reading “FULL FOR THE DAY” sat on the front counter at Interstate Tire on Main Street.

In the waiting room, as she had for nearly six hours, sat Tracy Smith, who had arrived to have her snow tires installed.

The Hanover resident and retired art teacher at Marion Cross School arrived at the store at 7:20 a.m. — 40 minutes before the business opened — and joined a line that was already 20 people long.

“We were watching and watching and watching, wondering when will the lights go on,” Smith said.

When the business opened at 8 a.m., Smith was given a 1 p.m. appointment. She drove to White River Junction to have lunch and run an errand. At 1 p.m., she was alone with her laptop in the waiting room.

Smith is one of hundreds of Upper Valley residents who hustled to have snow tires put on this week after the first widespread snow showers of the season blanketed the region last weekend.

Smith called Interstate Tire the night before and was warned that business had been “crazy” and she should arrive early.

“Whenever you hear that the weather is coming, it’s like a light bulb goes on for all of us who have delayed,” Smith said.

The past three days at Wilson Tire Co. in Lebanon, cars lined both sides of the’ driveway at 6:25 a.m. — 35 minutes before the store opened. By 7:15 a.m., there was a two-and-a-half-hour wait for an appointment, store manager Michael Devers said.

“This morning and the last three mornings, you open the door, and it’s like we’re giving away free Play Station 4s at Best Buy,” Devers said, referencing a popular video game console that is set to be released this year..

Wilson Tire typically closes at 5 p.m. on weekdays, but on Monday, the 10 employees worked until 8:30 p.m. and until 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday. Devers hoped that all employees could head home by 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Wilson Tire does a third of its yearly business in the last two months of the year, and employees there installed snow tires on 123 cars on Monday, 115 cars on Tuesday and about 100 on Wednesday.

One customer brought employees a box of donuts on Wednesday while she waited, and because the employees didn’t take lunch breaks this week, the owners bought all employees lunch, Devers said.

“We always joke when we open the door with that big of a line, we say, ‘Anyone in line for Rolling Stones tickets to the left, anybody looking for Justin Bieber to the right,’ ” Devers said. “We have a little fun.”

Drivers were getting their snow tires on in a hurry for good reason.

Motorists this morning should be mindful on untreated roads and watch for slick spots. Meteorologists were expecting the 1.26 inches of rain that Lebanon received on Wednesday to turn to ice overnight as temperatures began to drop.

“The message we’re putting out at least in Vermont is take it easy,” said John Goff, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Burlington. “It’s one of the busiest travel periods and the roads will be getting slick at night. It’s nothing we’re not used to in the state. Use safe driving practices. A little ice on the road doesn’t take much to slide off.”

The storm was coming to an end Wednesday night, said Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist in Gray, Maine. Once the ice is treated, drivers should expect dry, albeit cold, weather for most of the weekend. Sunday could see some snow flurries.

As temperatures dropped Wednesday night, the rain turned into snow, and Curtis said the National Weather Service was predicting about an inch of snow. Thursday will see highs in the 20s and 30s with wind 15 to 20 mph. Curtis said it usually takes winds of 40 to 50 mph to create widespread power outages.

Meteorologists put a flood watch in effect on Wednesday, but Goff said that was more of a precautionary measure because the trees are no longer taking up moisture from the ground and areas of ground are freezing. But Goff said Wednesday afternoon that he wasn’t expecting any bad flooding in the Upper Valley.

However, if Wednesday’s rain had been snow, it would have plopped about 18 inches to 2 feet onto the Upper Valley, Curtis said.

While the Upper Valley only saw rain on Wednesday, air travelers across the Northeast weren’t as lucky. High winds and a powerful storm system moving through the Northeast stranded some travelers and delayed others indefinitely on Wednesday, the busiest travel day of the year.

Some of the lengthiest delays were at Philadelphia International Airport, a major hub for US Airways, where flights were 1 hour and 55 minutes behind schedule on average by midday Wednesday.

In the New York area, delays were ranging from 30 minutes at Newark International Airport to 51 minutes at New York LaGuardia, according to air traffic control updates from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Despite the storm, many travelers were pleasantly surprised to find their flights were still on schedule Wednesday.

Arriving travelers faced heavy turbulence due to winds as flights approached Boston’s Logan airport on Wednesday, but many flights were still departing. Average delays in and out of Boston were reported by the FAA as being no more than 15 minutes.

But the powerful winds interrupted carriers flying smaller planes. Cape Air, which flies aircraft like the Cessna 402, canceled dozens of flights to destinations like Provincetown and Nantucket in Massachusetts; Saranac Lake, N.Y.; and Augusta, Maine.

Trip Davis moved from Charlottesville, Va., to Norwich in July, and yesterday was his first time buying snow tires. He was also feeling the pains of procrastination when he dropped his car off at noon on Wednesday and was still waiting at 4 p.m.

“I had a good friend who recommended we do it before Nov. 1,” Davis said, acknowledging that he didn’t take the advice. “After the snow this weekend, we decided it was time.”

Davis’ wife called Wilson Tire on Monday and was told that the business would have to order snow tires for their car. At noon on Wednesday, Davis got the call that his tires were in. Davis took advantage of Wilson Tire’s shuttle service, which took him to his office up the road at Centerra Parkway.

He returned to Wilson Tire around 2:30 p.m. and worked on his laptop until he was told at 4:15 p.m. that his car was ready.

“When I first pulled up and saw what felt like hundreds of cars lined up, I felt a sense of dread,” Davis said. “Now, I’m pleasantly surprised.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223. The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.