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Abominable snowstorm one for the record books

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 30. 2011 1:00PM
This tree in Derryfield Park had yet to shed its orange leaves before an early season snow fell Saturday evening in Manchester. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)
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As far as October snowfall goes, the nor'easter that dumped about 20 inches of snow across the southern part of the state - 31.5 inches in Jaffrey alone - broke all records for the month .

State safety officials reported about 285,000 utility customers were without power Sunday morning and warn residents to be prepared to be without service for several days.

'It is possible (people) will be without power for several days, so residents who are without power should consider alternative shelter plans,' Gov. John Lynch said. The governor also urged residents to check on their neighbors, particularly the elderly.

Temperatures are expected to plunge to the high teens and low- to mid-20s tonight, which will cause roadway icing as soon as the sun sets, National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Roberts said.

For homeowners without power and alternative heat sources, such as generators, woods or gas stoves, freezing pipes could be a concern tonight. Roberts urged them to open drapes and shades on south-facing windows and doors to allow the sun to warm up their homes, then shut them as soon as the sun sets.

State Homeland Security director Christopher M. Pope cautioned residents to be careful when using generators and alternative heat sources and strongly urged everyone to slow down while driving and give extra room between vehicles.

The nor'easter that cut an arc across New England from the Berkshires in Massachusetts, across the Monadnock region to just south of Conway and into Maine dumped one to two feet of heavy wet snow on mostly southern New Hampshire, and snapped tree limbs and power lines.

Clean up crews were out in force Sunday morning, though downed tree limbs and trees leave many roads partially blocked or impassable.

Utility companies are reporting power could be out for several days, state officials said.

The storm that began Saturday night and continued through early Sunday has been ranked third in terms of total snowfall of any storm since the National Weather Service began keeping records in the Concord area in the late 1800s, Roberts said.

'It's pretty unusual to get this big a storm this early,' Roberts said.

Concord reported 22.2 inches of snow in this storm, he said. Jaffrey reported 31.5 inches.

Temperatures will be in the upper 40s and lower 50s beginning Monday, Roberts said.

'Unfortunately, its all going to melt. It's all going to go away,' he added.


Full text of earlier article continues below.

A record-setting nor'easter darkened more than 230,000 New Hampshire homes and businesses Saturday night, triggered dozens of traffic accidents and disrupted Halloween-themed activities.

The early snowstorm even proved too scary for Spooky World in Litchfield, which didn't open Saturday night, resulting in more than $100,000 in lost ticket sales, an owner said. The town's fire chief ordered the indoor/outdoor Halloween attraction at Mel's Funway Park shuttered over safety concerns, according to Wayne Caulfield, co-owner of Mel's and Spooky World Presents Nightmare New England. About 4,000 people were expected.

'In our wildest reaches of our imagination, we never expected a snowstorm,' he said.

By 1:45 a.m. today, Public Service of New Hampshire had reported 162,255 customers without power and Unitil an additional 74,498 - in about 100 communities in the southern part of the state.

PSNH's total represented the third-largest peak outage in its history, trailing the December 2008 ice storm (322,000) and the 2010 wind storm (269,500).

The utility's largest outages were in Manchester (28,328), Nashua (27,482) and Derry (10,082).

PSNH spokesman Matt Chagnon said crews were assessing the damage, and he couldn't say when power would return.

'I think we'll see more of a major push as far as restoration goes when daylight hits (today),' Chagnon said.

At Unitil, 'We expect this to be a multi-day restoration event, but we will not be able to provide a global restoration time until the storm has passed and our damage assessment is complete,' said Rich Francazio, emergency management director. Unitil serves the Seacoast and the Greater Concord area.

Eric Isenburg, dispatcher at the Manchester Highway Department, said the storm dumped 6 to 7 inches of snow by 10 p.m. and conditions were difficult.

'Trees down. Roads are blocked. Can't get through to plow,' he said. 'You name it, we've got it.'

Other snow totals included 11 inches in New Ipswich as of 7 p.m. and 9 inches at Merrimack and Wilton at 8 p.m., according to the Weather Service.

In Hooksett, 'A lot of businesses are closing because of no power,' police dispatcher Rick Belanger said.

Electronic signs along Interstate 93 lowered the speed limit to 45 mph, but motorists were traveling more like 30 mph in near whiteout conditions around 10 p.m.

Snow coating autumn leaves increased the odds of trees and branches falling on wires than if this storm had hit in December.

Concord was poised to shatter its all-time October snow record of 3 inches, set in 1868 and matched in 1884. The city already recorded 0.8 inches last week, meaning the weekend storm needed to drop only 2.3 inches to eclipse the milestone. Concord, which averages 0.1 inches of snow for October, has recorded snow 51 times in October in the past 144 years, according to the Weather Service.

One meteorologist said the atmosphere offered 'the perfect setup' for a snowstorm.

'It's Mother Nature at her best,' said Butch Roberts of the Gray, Maine, office. 'She wound up a good little snowstorm at the perfect location. ...'' A storm such as this pulls in cool air, he said, 'and the magic starts to happen.'

Only three weeks ago, Concord recorded a record high of 85 degrees

A winter storm warning was issued Saturday for the entire state through at least this morning, with a high-wind warning posted along the coast for wind gusts up to 60 mph. A wide swath of 6 to 12 inches of snow was predicted to stretch over most of the state. But homeowners soon should be able to swap their snowblowers for leaf blowers again, with temperatures forecast to flirt with 50 by Tuesday in southern areas.

Police on Saturday reported scores of accidents on slick roads, including a five-vehicle crash in Greenville and a four-vehicle wreck in Rindge.

Travel also proved difficult by air. More than a dozen flights were delayed or canceled at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. A Southwest flight from Tampa was delayed more than 4 1/2 hours before being canceled.

People parking overnight on Manchester streets risked getting their vehicles towed during a snow emergency that ended at 6 a.m. today. Those towed faced a $110 bill.

Ski-area workers wanted the snow to fire up skiers and snowboarders.

'We're hoping it will get people excited and get people thinking about the ski season and the winter,' said Alexa Bernotavicz, assistant director of ski area operations at Bretton Woods. She said some people hiked up and skied Saturday despite the ski area not being open yet.

In Derry, skis and shovels were the hot items at Benson Ski & Sport and Benson Lumber & Hardware, which share the same building.

'I've seen plenty of people walking out with shovels,' said sales associate J.C. Carette.

More than 30 communities, from Auburn to Stratham, scheduled trick-or-treating today. Deerfield is slated to hold its annual Tailgate Trick or Treat outside Town Hall at noon. Police Detective Dan Deyermond said tailgating doesn't typically mean grilling lunch, but it couldn't hurt this year.

'Maybe a little fireplace going on,' he said.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the 'perfect storm,' which prompted Sebastian Junger's best-selling book about the deaths of six Massachusetts fishermen lost at sea.

That storm was 'much farther out to sea' than this weekend's snowstorm, Roberts said.

'A nor'easter at this time of the year to produce snow is rare, but it does happen once in awhile,' he said. 'The ingredients have to be perfect.'

- By MICHAEL COUSINEAU, New Hampshire Sunday News


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