Snow smacks Northeast; power could be out for days

By Michael Melia

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 30 2011 9:05 a.m. MDT

Deran Muckjian clears downed tree branches from his yard in Belmont, Mass., Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011. A snowstorm with a ferocity more familiar in February than October socked the Northeast over the weekend, knocking out power to 2.3 million, snarling air and highway travel and dumping more than 2 feet of snow in a few spots as it slowly moved north out of New England.

Michael Dwyer, Associated Press

SOUTH WINDSOR, Conn. — Millions of people from Maine to Maryland were without power as an unseasonably early storm dumped heavy, wet snow over the weekend on a region more used to gaping at leaves in October than shoveling snow.

The snow was due to stop falling in New England late Sunday, but it could be days before many of the 2.7 million without electricity see it restored, officials warned.

At least three deaths were blamed on the weather, and states of emergency were declared in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and parts of New York.

The storm worsened as it moved north, and communities in western Massachusetts were among the hardest hit. Snowfall totals topped 27 inches in Plainfield, and nearby Windsor had gotten 26 inches by early Sunday.

"Look at this, look at all the damage," said Jennifer Burckson, 49, after she came outside Sunday morning in South Windsor to find a massive tree branch had smashed her car's back windshield. Trees in the neighborhood were snapped in half, with others weighed down so much that the leaves brushed the snow.

Compounding the storm's impact were still-leafy trees, which gave the snow something to hang onto and that put tremendous weight on branches, said National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro. That led to limbs breaking off and contributed to the widespread outages.

"We can't even use the snow blower because the snow is so heavy," Burckson said.

The 750,000 who lost power in Connecticut broke a record for the state that was set when the remnants of Hurricane Irene hit the state in August. People could be without electricity for as long as a week, said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

This outage will be worse than one caused by Irene, said Peter Bloom, 70, of South Windsor, because he relies on electricity to heat his home.

"I'm going to put another blanket on. What else can I do?" he said as he gassed up a snow blower to clear his driveway. "At least I'll save a few bucks on my electric bill."

The severity of the storm caught many by surprise.

"It's a little startling. I mean, it's only October," said Craig Brodur, who was playing keno with a friend at Northampton Convenience in western Massachusetts.

Some inland towns got more than a foot of snow. West Milford, N.J., about 45 miles northwest of New York City, saw 19 inches by early Sunday.

New Jersey's largest electric and gas utility, PSE&G, warned customers to prepare for "potentially lengthy outages" and advised power might not be fully restored until Wednesday. More than 600,000 lost electricity in the state, including Gov. Chris Christie.

Along the coast and in such cities as Boston, relatively warm water temperatures helped keep snowfall totals much lower. Washington received a trace of snow, tying a 1925 record for the date. New York City's Central Park set a record for both the date and the month of October with 1.3 inches of snow.

But in New Hampshire's capital of Concord, more than 22 inches fell, weeks ahead of the usual first measurable snowfall. Trees downtown still bright with fall colors were covered with snow. Some didn't survive — a large oak tree that had stood alongside the Statehouse fell, partially blocking a side street.

By 8 a.m., Dave Whitcher had already been clearing dozens of parking lots in and around Concord for eight hours as part of his work as a property manager.

Holding up his shovel, he said, "Me and this guy are going to get to know each other real well today."

Residents were urged to avoid travel altogether. Speed limits were reduced on bridges between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A few roads closed because of accidents and downed trees and power lines, and more were expected, said Sean Brown, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

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