BOSTON – New England's first major winter storm of 2008 snarled the Monday morning commute with heavy snow and closed hundreds of schools.
Following the snowiest December on record in some parts of the region, and a spell of spring-like warmth, meteorologists said as much as 14 inches of snow was possible in southern New Hampshire and areas west and north of Boston.
Many communities declared snow emergencies in advance of the storm and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino ordered only essential city employees to report to work.
Snow piled up quickly with 11 inches by late morning at Winchendon, in north-central Massachusetts, and in South Casco, Maine, the National Weather Service said. Pine Plains, N.Y., near the Connecticut state line, reported 7 inches, and Burlington, Conn., had 6.5 inches. The Boston area had about 5.
"The story is it's a fast moving storm," said Bill Boynton, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. "Not only is it limiting visibility, but it's also coming down at a pace that we can't keep up with in terms of getting bare roads."
Kaj Munic was up at 4:30 a.m. plowing the heavy, wet snow off driveways in Columbia, Conn. "You have to hit most places at least twice," said Munic, a 59-year-old contractor.
Hundreds of public and private schools canceled classes for the day in anticipation of the snow in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island and parts of eastern New York.
School officials were taking no chances, especially after a Dec. 13 storm in which many youngsters in Providence, R.I., were stuck on buses for hours. That storm also caused monumental traffic jams around Boston.
The New Hampshire Legislature canceled all events.
Numerous flights were canceled at airports including Boston's Logan International and Maine's Portland International Jetport.
"We are open, but capacity is very low because airlines made decisions yesterday and (Monday) morning to cancel many of their flights," said Phil Orlandella, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority.
Utilities reported scattered power outages, including a peak of more than 36,000 homes and businesses blacked out in Connecticut, said Mitch Gross, a spokesman for Connecticut Light and Power. More than 9,000 lost power in Massachusetts, and Rhode Island had a peak of more than 11,000.
"It's the issue of heavy wet snow taking down trees or tree branches, which are taking down wires," Gross said.
The snowfall was lighter than expected in some areas, with the Connecticut measurements falling short of the predicted accumulation of up to 14 inches. Initial forecasts for New York City's northern suburbs were for as much as a foot, but the metro area got mostly rain.
So far this winter, Concord, N.H., has gotten 54 inches of snow, nearly 44 inches has fallen at Portland, Maine, and Bangor, Maine, has totaled 49 inches.