Freak October snowstorm a trick, no treat in New England

Freak October snowstorm a trick, no treat in New England

November 1st, 2011 in Opinion Times

Snow covers idle rental vehicles parked in a lot near Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., Monday Oct. 31, 2011. More than 750,000 customers in the state were without power from the storm, which set Connecticut records for outages and snowfall so early in the season. (AP Photo/Bettina Hansen, Pool)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Meteorologically, it was a near-perfect storm that brought much of the Northeast to a near-standstill over the weekend, and quite possibly for days to come. Snow -- lots of it -- high winds and trees still laden with leaves combined to create havoc from Maryland to Maine. With up to 30-inches of snow reported in some sites, the early storm was one for the record. And the aftermath was something more common to the heart of winter than the last days of October.

The power of the storm -- which occurred several weeks before the usual initial measurable snowfall of the season -- caught residents and public officials off guard. Of course, it's hard to get ready for snow when leaves are on the trees, Halloween has yet to arrive and temperatures are near normal.

The storm dumped record or near record snow across inland New England. Western Massachusetts was hardest hit, with several communities reporting more than 25 inches. Totals in double digits were common elsewhere, too. States of emergency were declared in at least four states.

Tree damage was widespread, worse in some instances than that caused by a winter storm. Unfallen leaves, experts said, let snow accumulate on branches, eventually snapping them. They fell onto power lines, streets and homes with predictable results. Even trees in places with relatively little snowfall suffered. New York City, for example, recorded just over an inch of snow, but officials said at least 1,000 trees in Central Park were damaged.

At storm's end, about 3 million homes and businesses were without power, though the number had dropped below 2 million by late Monday. That's cold comfort for more than a few people. Officials said that some residents in the region could be without power for several days or perhaps a week.

Several storm-related deaths were reported and road, school, business and other closures were common Monday. In some places, Halloween festivities were canceled. Officials were afraid that trick-or-treaters might be injured, or worse, in communities and neighborhoods without power and where trees still could fall.

Even as they waited for life to return to normal, residents of the East and Northeast wondered if the Halloween storm was an omen of a third tough winter in a row. The answer, it seems, is that no one knows. Long-range forecasts still call for a drier than normal start of winter with higher chances of precipitation later in the season. Those, of course, are predictions, not a statement of fact.

Dimitra Richardson. a resident of suddenly snowy Malverne, N.Y., has as good an idea of what might come as anyone. "Nature," she said Monday, "acts whenever it wants." Whether that is in October or in winter's depths, those who live in cold and snowy climes or even in the more temperate Southeast can do little more than watch, wait and prepare.