Snow smacks Northeast; power could be out for days
SOUTH WINDSOR, Conn. – Millions of people from Maine to Maryland were without power as an unseasonably early nor'easter 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 Halloween will likely come and go before many of the more than 3 million without electricity see it restored, officials warned. Several referred to the combination of the storm's early arrival and its ferocity as historic, yet another unwelcome superlative for weather-weary Northeasterners.
"You had this storm, you had Hurricane Irene, you had the flooding last spring and you had the nasty storms last winter," Tom Jacobsen said Sunday while getting coffee at a convenience store in Hamilton Township, N.J.
"I'm starting to think we really ticked off Mother Nature somehow because we've been getting spanked by her for about a year now."
The storm smashed record snowfall totals for October and worsened as it moved north. 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. It was blamed for at least three deaths, and states of emergency were declared in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and parts of New York.
"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.
"This is not going to be a quick fix," said Peter Judge, a Massachusetts emergency management official.
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, said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
This outage will be worse than the 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, and it disrupted Halloween plans, too.
Sharon Martovich of Southbury, Conn., who was grocery shopping Sunday morning in nearby Newtown at one of the few businesses open for miles, said she's hoping the power will come back on in time for her husband's Halloween tradition of playing "Young Frankenstein" on a giant screen in front of their house.
"We would be really sad and it would disappoint a lot of people if we can't play 'Young Frankenstein,'" she said. But no matter what, they will make sure the eight or so children who live in the neighborhood don't miss out on trick-or-treating.
"Either way we will get the giant flashlights and we will go," she said.
She was already making the best of the outage. After her power went out at about 4 p.m. Saturday, she invited neighbors over for an impromptu Halloween party with wine and quesadillas in front of her propane fireplace.
Around Newtown, snow-laden branches were snapping off trees every few minutes. Roads that were plowed became impassible because the trees were falling so fast.
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 around town 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."
Some other 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.
Utility crews were out in force Sunday, but downed trees and messy roads — snowfall totals reached 19 — were hampering their efforts.
They also delayed rescues of motorists stranded along highways in upstate New York, where 50 to 75 vehicles were towed overnight. A commuter train was also evacuated, and passengers were taken to a shelter, state troopers said.
Residents were urged to avoid travel altogether. Speed limits were reduced on bridges between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and a bridge in Delaware was closed. Roads closed because of accidents and downed trees and power lines, said Sean Brown, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Two of the airports serving New York City, Newark Liberty and Kennedy, had hours-long delays Saturday, as did Philadelphia's airport. Commuter trains in Connecticut and New York were delayed or suspended because of downed trees and signal problems. Amtrak suspended service on several Northeast routes, and one train from Chicago to Boston got stuck overnight in Palmer, Mass. The 48 passengers had food and heat, a spokeswoman said, and were taken by bus Sunday to their destinations.
In southeastern Pennsylvania, an 84-year-old man was killed when a snow-laden tree fell on his home while he was napping in his recliner. In Connecticut, the governor said one person died in a Colchester traffic accident that he blamed on slippery conditions.
And a 20-year-old man in Springfield, Mass., stopped when he saw police and firefighters examining downed wires and stepped in the wrong place and was electrocuted, Capt. William Collins said.
Parts of New York saw a mix of snow, rain and slush that made for sheer misery at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City, where drenched protesters hunkered down in tents and under tarps as the plaza filled with rainwater and melted snow.
Technically, tents are banned in the park, but protesters say authorities have been looking the other way, even despite a crackdown on generators that were keeping them warm.
Nick Lemmin, 25, of Brooklyn, was spending his first night at the encampment. He was one of a handful of protesters still at the park early Sunday.
"I had to come out and support," he said. "The underlying importance of this is such that you have to weather the cold."
Adash Daniel, 24, is a protester who had been at the park for three weeks. He had a sleeping bag and cot that he was going to set up, but changed his mind.
"I'm not much good to this movement if I'm shivering," he said as he left the park.
October snowfall is rare in New York, and Saturday marked just the fourth October day with measurable snowfall in Central Park since record-keeping began 135 years ago, the National Weather Service said.
But the unofficial arrival of winter was a boon for some. Two Vermont ski resorts, Killington and Mount Snow, started the ski season early by opening one trail each over the weekend, and Maine's Sunday River ski resort also opened for the weekend.
Associated Press writers Noreen Gillespie in Newtown, Conn.; Mary Esch in Albany, N.Y.; Ron Todt in Philadelphia; David B. Caruso, Colleen Long and Deepti Hajela in New York; Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H.; and Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.