Snow leaves 3 million without power in US
31 October 2011, 09:03
South Windsor - Millions of people in the US northeast were without power on Sunday as an unseasonably early storm dumped heavy, wet snow over the weekend on a region more used to gaping at leaves in October than shovelling snow.
The snow was due to stop falling in the New England states late on Sunday, but it could be days before many of the more than 3 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 smashed record snowfall totals for October and worsened as it moved north.
Communities in western Massachusetts were among the hardest hit. Snowfall totals topped 68cm in Plainfield, and nearby Windsor had had 66cm by early Sunday.
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 spokesperson Chris Vaccaro.
That led to limbs breaking off and contributed to the widespread power outages.
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 Governor Dannel P Malloy.
MOTHER NATURE 'TICKED OFF'
Several officials referred to the combination of the storm's early arrival and its ferocity as historic, yet another unwelcome superlative for weather-weary residents of the US northeast.
"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 on Sunday while getting coffee at a convenience store in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.
"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."
Some inland towns got more than 30cm of snow. West Milford, New Jersey, about 72km northwest of New York City, saw 48cm 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.
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 3.3cm of snow.
But in New Hampshire's capital of Concord, more than 56cm fell, weeks ahead of the usual first measurable snowfall. Trees downtown still bright with autumn colours were covered with snow.
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 spokesperson for the Pennsylvania department of transportation.
Two of the airports serving New York City, Newark Liberty and Kennedy, had hours-long delays on 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 passenger train service on several Northeast routes, and one train from Chicago to Boston got stuck overnight in Palmer, Massachusetts. The 48 passengers had food and heat, a spokeswoman said, and were taken by bus on 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, Massachusetts, stopped when he saw police and firefighters examining downed wires and stepped in the wrong place and was electrocuted.
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 on 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.