Although the October snowstorm Saturday night was unusual for the season, state and local officials had prepared well.
Police and utility companies were busy Saturday night responding to weather-related accidents and power outages. Regional law enforcement and emergency crews responded to a handful of cars going off the roads, but no serious injuries were reported late Saturday.
“We had about three to five of them since we came in at 7 p.m.,” said an Albany County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher just before 10 p.m.. “But there were quite a few more during the daytime. It is slick. The snowplows are out and they’re sanding and salting. But it’s slow going right now. Traffic is a little more cautious now.”
Power outages affected residents and businesses, with a total of 261,338 customers statewide without power as of 7:30 p.m. Most outages occurred south of Albany in the Hudson Valley region, officials said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo activated the state’s Emergency Operations Center Saturday.
“The roads are slippery and many trees and power lines have come down,” said Cuomo in a Saturday news release. “So I urge motorists to avoid driving in areas affected by the storm and encourage all New Yorkers to take necessary precautions.”
The state’s Emergency Management Office also activated operations in its Dutchess, Nassau and Orange County offices.
Snowfall in October can be particularly dangerous with the combination of wet snow and leaves still on trees, which can cause heavy branches to fall on power lines. Companies made available 341 line, tree, and forestry crews and contractors prior to the storm.
The snowfall began mid-Saturday afternoon, with about 3 to 5 inches predicted to fall before the storm’s end by daybreak. The snow was at its heaviest in the Capital Region on Saturday evening.
Strong winds made the day and night in the capital a chilly one, with gusts predicted to reach up to 35 miles per hour.
In the Saratoga and Lake George region, snow began falling around 6 p.m. and was predicted to end by daybreak. An accumulation of 2 to 5 inches was expected in the southeast Adirondack region, with more in higher elevations.
An already-storm ravaged Schoharie County has been through its worst already as it picks up the pieces from Tropical Storm Irene. As of 10 p.m. Saturday, the Sheriff’s Department had responded to several weather-related accidents, but no personal injuries had occurred.
“It’s not during rush hour, so it’s not as bad,” said a Schoharie County dispatcher. “Thursday’s snow was during rush hour so there were more accidents. Roads are slick, but County Highway is out and they’re doing their jobs well. I think people are using their common sense or being cautious and just staying home.”
Cuomo declared a state of emergency Saturday in 13 New York counties, including Albany, in response to the storm. The declaration will enable state resources to be deployed to help the hardest-hit regions. The declaration applies to Albany, Columbia, Dutchess, Delaware, Greene, Orange, Putnam, Richmond, Rensselaer, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester counties.
Though there is a slight chance of snow until 7 a.m. today in Albany, the National Weather Service reported that it should gradually clear by mid-morning, with only less than a half inch of new accumulation possible.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Evan Heller said it should be clear and sunny this afternoon, with temperatures reaching into the 40s.
“It’s mainly because we’re on the western fringe of the storm,” said Heller of the Capital Region. “Here we’ve only had about 2 inches maybe. The airport had maybe 3 inches. So we’re on the low end out here. But if you go further east, that’s where they got hit really hard with over a foot of snow.”
Spared the worst
The unusually early and powerful nor’easter ranged from the mid-Atlantic to New England, toppling leafy trees and power lines and knocking out electricity to more than 2 million homes and businesses.
Communities inland were getting hit hardest, with eastern Pennsylvania serving as the bull’s-eye for the storm. West Milford, N.J., about 45 miles northwest of New York City, had received 15.5 inches of snow by Saturday night, while Plainfield, Mass., had gotten 14.3 inches. New York City’s Central Park set a record for both the date and the month of October with 1.3 inches of snow.
More than 2.2 million customers lost power from Maryland north through Massachusetts, and utilities were bringing in crews from other states to help restore it. More than half a million residents in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut were without power, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. By late Saturday, the storm had vacated most of Pennsylvania and was tracking northeast.
Throughout the region, officials had warned that the early storm would bring sticky snow on the heels of the week’s warmer weather and could create dangerous conditions. New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts declared states of emergencies. Connecticut authorities blamed at least one traffic death on the storm.
“It’s a little startling. I mean, it’s only October,” said Craig Brodur, who was playing keno with a friend at Northampton Convenience in western Massachusetts, which had received about 4 inches of snow by Saturday night.
And the storm was expected to worsen as it swept north. The heaviest snowfall was forecast for later in the day into today in the Berkshires, the Litchfield Hills in northwestern Connecticut, southwestern New Hampshire and the southern Green Mountains. Wind gusts of up to 55 mph were predicted, especially along coastal areas.
The storm disrupted travel along the Eastern Seaboard. Philadelphia International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport all had hours-long delays Saturday. Amtrak suspended service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., and commuter trains in Connecticut and New York were delayed or suspended because of downed trees and signal problems.
Cold, soggy protest
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 said authorities have been looking the other way, even despite a crackdown on generators that were keeping them warm.
“I want to thank the New York Police Department,” said 32-year-old protester Sam McBee, decked out in a yellow slicker and rain pants. “We’re not supposed to have tents. We’re not supposed to have sleeping bags. You go to Atlanta, they don’t have it. You go to Oakland, you don’t have it. And we got it.”
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.
Springing into action
The state Department of Transportation had 825 plow trucks, 15 tree crews and 20 load and haul crews ready to clear roads as soon as the snowfall started. Plows began hitting roads in Albany as early as 3 p.m., when the first snow began to fall.
The state Bridge Authority was also on hand Saturday with 17 trucks and 50 maintenance staff on call.
About 150 miles of roadway was pretreated by the state Thruway Authority, with up to 135 personnel and 125 snow plows ready for the storm.
Other state agencies and authorities coordinated response efforts Saturday, including state police, Long Island Power Authority, New York Power Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Division of Military and Naval Affairs, and Metropolitan Transportation Authority.