2011 Halloween nor'easter

2011 Halloween nor'easter
Snow falling into the backyard of a light brown house and garage. In the upper foreground are branches with leaves, mostly red but with some remaining green. A rubber inflatable jack o'lantern is in the lower right corner.
Snow falling on autumn leaves in Walden, NY
Storm type: Nor'easter, thundersnow[1]
Formed: October 28, 2011
Dissipated: November 1, 2011 (moved to sea)
Maximum
amount
:*
32 inches (81 cm), Peru, Massachusetts[2]
Lowest
pressure
:
971 mb (28.7 inHg)
Fatalities: 39 total[3][4]
Areas affected: Northeastern United States, Atlantic Canada

^* Maximum snowfall or ice accretion

The 2011 Halloween nor'easter was a large low pressure area that produced unusually early snowfall across the northeastern United States and the Canadian Maritimes. It formed early on October 29 along a cold front to the southeast of the Carolinas. As it moved northeastward, its associated snowfall broke records in at least 20 cities for total accumulations, resulting in an unusual "white Halloween."

Snow fell on trees that were often still in leaf, adding extra weight. Trees and branches that collapsed under it caused considerable damage, particularly to power lines. Several million customers in several states suffered outages that lasted into the next week. In some areas the downed trees and blackouts broke records set just two months earlier by Hurricane Irene. Many communities had to cancel or postpone celebrations of Halloween from two days to a week later as a result. Delays in restoring power led to the resignation of the CEO of Connecticut Light & Power amid widespread criticism of the company's inadequate response to both the nor'easter and Irene.

Contents

Meteorological history

Early on October 28, 2011, a ridge over Canada advected an unseasonably cold air mass across the Mid-Atlantic states and New England; at the same time, a surface low-pressure area began developing along the coast of Louisiana.[5] A cold front extended from the western Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of South Carolina, westward to the low pressure area.[6] Early on October 29, another low pressure area developed off the coast of the Carolinas with a cold front extending southward from the low into the Gulf of Mexico,[7] while moisture was fed from the remnants of Hurricane Rina.[8] At the same time, an area of precipitation extended from South Carolina through Pennsylvania, mostly falling as rain with some snow observed at higher elevations.[7] By late that morning, the system was producing precipitation over much of the Mid-Atlantic and New England.[9] As the system moved to the northeast through the day, it produced widespread snow and winds near hurricane-strength north of the cyclone's warm front over the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean.[10] Winds as high as 69 mph (111 km/h) were observed in Massachusetts,[11] and the National Weather Service, issued a Hurricane Force Wind Warning for the Gulf of Maine and New England high-seas.[12] Overnight into October 30, the storm passed south of Nantucket, and it moved over Nova Scotia later that day with a barometric pressure of 975 mb (28.8 inHg). As it did so, the associated precipitation diminished over New England and moved into Atlantic Canada.[2] As the system moved out into the Atlantic ocean, it reached a minimum barometric presure of 971 mb (28.7 inHg) as it passed to the east of the island of Newfoundland late on October 31.[13] By the early morning of November 1, the system had fully moved out to sea.[14]

Preparations

Before the storm was at its strongest, local National Weather Service offices issued winter storm warnings from northwestern Virginia through central New England, as well as winter storm watches from central Maryland through central Maine. Officials anticipated peak snowfall totals to be from 8–10 inches (20–25 cm) across much of the region.[6] All warnings were canceled after the storm moved away from the region.[2]

A group of small tents in a park with green trees, concrete sidewalks and falling snow, some of which has begun to accumulate on the tents
Snow falling on Occupy Wall Street

Early on October 29, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation activated their fleet of salt trucks.[15] In eastern Pennsylvania, the most recent significant snowstorm during October was in 1972.[16] Utility crews prepared additional crews in the event of power outages.[15] The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area closed a road due to the storm's threat.[17] Connecticut governor Dan Malloy opened the state's Emergency Operations Center in Hartford, which included members of the transportation, health, and energy departments.[18] Officials opened 41 shelters in Connecticut.[19] Protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York asserted that they would continue their actions despite the weather, obtaining coats and blankets.[16]

Snowfall totals and records

Precipitation began falling in North Carolina and Virginia late on October 28.[6] By early on October 29, measurable snowfall was reported from West Virginia through Maryland,[20] which later extended through Maine. The highest snowfall was in Peru, Massachusetts with 32.0 in (810 mm).[2] At least 20 cities reported record-breaking snowfall,[19] and the peak of 19 in (480 mm) in West Milford, New Jersey broke the state record for highest snowfall during the month. Newark, New Jersey's largest city, also broke their all-time October snowfall record with 5.2 in (130 mm). The previous record for Newark was only 0.3 in (7.6 mm) in 1952.[21] Central Park, New York observed 2.9 in (74 mm),[2] which set a new record for the most snow in October since 1869 when weather records began being kept, according to the National Weather Service.[22] New York City had not reported measurable snowfall during October since 1952,[16] and there were only three days on record when measurable snow occurred in Central Park.[23] Hartford, Connecticut observed a record 12.3 in (310 mm),[19] and the highest total in the state was 18.6 in (470 mm) in Bakersville; this broke the record for highest statewide snow total during the month.[24] In Massachusetts, the nor'easter brought wind gusts peaking at 69 mph (111 km/h) in Barnstable and, unofficially, 76 mph (122 km/h) in Provincetown.[25] An automated marine weather station at Mount Desert Rock, Maine recorded a top gust of 77.2 mph (124.2 km/h).[26]

Effects by state or province[27]
State/Province Deaths Power outages Snowfall
Connecticut 10[28] 830,000 18.6 inches (47 cm)
Maine 0 160,000 20.0 inches (51 cm)
Maryland 0 43,000 11.6 inches (29 cm)
Massachusetts 6[29] 420,000 32.0 inches (81 cm)
New Brunswick 3 3,500 N/A
New Hampshire 0 315,000 31.4 inches (80 cm)
New Jersey 8[30] 700,000 19.0 inches (48 cm)
New York 3 300,000 21.6 inches (55 cm)
Nova Scotia 0 40,000 N/A
Pennsylvania 8 500,000 16.0 inches (41 cm)
Prince Edward Island 1 3,000 N/A
Rhode Island 0 20,000 6.6 inches (17 cm)
Vermont 0 7,500 16.0 inches (41 cm)
Virginia 0 >4,000 9.0 inches (23 cm)
West Virginia 0 43,000 14.0 inches (36 cm)
Total 39 >3,389,000

Impact

The nor'easter storm became the fourteenth multi-billion-USD weather-related disaster of 2011, exceeding the old record of eight such disasters in one year, set in 2008.[31] Some NOAA Weather Radio stations went down; more notably frequent outages 24 hours before the storm on all stations operated by the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office (WFO) at Taunton, MA, and one lasting a day and a half on station WNG575 broadcasting from the summit of Pack Monadnock in Peterborough, NH, also operated by the Taunton WFO, beginning on the morning of October 30 and ending around daybreak on October 31. However, the cause of the outage on WNG575 is unknown.

Across the northeast United States, the combination of high winds and wet, heavy snow downed trees, most of which retained their fall leaves.[32] In New York City, a thousand trees were estimated to have fallen in Central Park, far more than had been damaged by Hurricane Irene two months earlier,[33] just as had been reported in Connecticut.[19] The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx reported that 2,200 trees in its old-growth forest, the only one remaining in the city from the era prior to European colonization, were damaged.[34] The downed trees caused widespread power outages,[19] leaving over 3 million people without power, as well as killing two people from electrocution.[35] In Central Park workers put a priority on making the park safe for the annual New York City Marathon the next weekend.[36] As the storm moved into Canada, it dropped rain in Nova Scotia and snow in New Brunswick and Newfoundland. Parts of the inland regions of Newfoundland received close to 25 cm (9.8 in) of snow.

Fatalities

The snow resulted in traffic accidents that killed at least six people, including one due to storm conditions in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island. Overall, there were at least 39 deaths, including one man in Pennsylvania who died after a tree struck his home.[35]

A downed tree with green and yellow leaves suspended by wires next to snow-covered railroad tracks.
Downed tree on Metro-North's Harlem Line, north of New York City

Transportation

The storm affected transportation across the Northeast. Two rail services were closed in the New York area, and Amtrak service across the region was either delayed or canceled.[35] NJ Transit suspended service on the Morris and Essex Lines until November 1 due to downed wires and branches, and even then was only able to restore service as far west as Lake Hopatcong.[37] North of New York City, Metro-North suspended commuter rail service on the Harlem Line north of North White Plains, leaving passengers marooned on a train at Southeast for 11 hours when fallen trees blocked the tracks in both directions.[38] Service was also suspended on the Port Jervis Line and the New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury branches of the New Haven Line.[39] Service on the Port Jervis Line and electrified portions of the Harlem Line was restored on Monday; bus service replaced trains between Southeast and Wassaic and on the Danbury and Waterbury branches for the rest of the week.[40]

The storm also disrupted air travel from Pennsylvania through Connecticut.[32][32] Officials at Newark International Airport canceled all flights on October 29, and flights out of New York's two major airports were delayed by about five hours.[41] Some flights bound for New York were diverted to Hartford. Several JetBlue flights departing from Bradley International Airport were stranded on the tarmac for up to seven hours due to the hazardous conditions.[42][43]

Sports

Sporting events on Saturday, mostly college and high school football games, were also impacted. Penn State officials limited parking at its home football game to 1,500 spaces due to the inclement weather.[15] It was the first Nittany Lions home October football game with measurable snow since record keeping began in 1896.[32] At West Point, New York, Army defeated Fordham 55–0 in its first home game played in snow since 1985.[44] On Long Island where a wind swept mixture of heavy snow and rain fell, a match between Plainview – Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School and Valley Stream Central High School was cancelled after 15 players were treated for hypothermia, prompting the school district to reconsider game cancellation policies. At another football game on Long Island 10 players were checked and some treated for hypothermia.[45]

Halloween

Many traditional Halloween activities were affected by the storm. In communities without power, where tree limbs and wires were down, trick-or-treating was postponed until days when it was expected to be back and repairs had made the streets safer. Events in Sleepy Hollow, New York, where Washington Irving's classic short story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is set, attracting many tourists around the holiday, were canceled due to the storm and its aftermath. Another popular Halloween destination, Salem, Massachusetts, was not affected due to minimal snowfall.[46]

Some families were able to compensate for the lost Halloween. They took their children to trick-or-treat in other communities that had not lost power. Residents of Glen Rock, New Jersey, organized a "trunk-or-treat" party at the local high school's football field, where children went around to parked sport-utility vehicles.[46] Since many schools had snow days, and there was little to distract children without power, many parents insisted on going ahead with the holiday. "You can't cancel Halloween" said a woman in Fairfield, New Jersey. "The kids are all hyped up. They had no school because there's no power and this and that." A boy in Lexington, Massachusetts said he now planned to "buy some candy and eat it myself."[34]

Proposals in some communities to hold Halloween the following weekend, or whenever conditions returned to normal, met with protest from some parents. Some considered the October 31 date to be immutable and nonnegotiable, so children would have to wait for 2012. "I don't have control over the calendar, so Halloween is on Halloween, which is the 31st", said Pat Murphy, mayor of New Milford, Connecticut, which, she noted, had managed to celebrate the holiday that day on its village green despite considerable storm damage and continued power outages. Others had already allowed their children some trick-or-treating, and did not want them to indulge in candy a second time within the week.[47]

Many school districts were forced by the storm to use up their remaining allotted snow days for the school year, after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee had required some be used near the beginning of the year. The Weston, Connecticut, public schools had already used nine snow days as of November 2, five more than its schedule allowed. Since the regular winter was still two months away, it was certain that they would have to shorten or cancel vacation periods planned for later in the year, or even add days to the end of the year in June. The storm had come at a critical time for high school seniors preparing college applications for early decision, and 76 colleges and universities moved those deadlines back to compensate. In Connecticut, Weston High School, which had power, opened its library for students wishing to study or work on their applications; movies were shown in the auditorium.[48]

A satellite image of the northeastern United State. A swath of snow covers the ground from the Appalachians in western Virginia through Pennsylvania, northern and central New Jersey, the New York City metropolitan area and Hudson Valley into New England. There are patches of cloud on either side.
Satellite image of snowfall on Oct. 30.

Power outages

Approximately 1.7 million customers in the Northeast were still without power as of November 1. Temperatures in the region warmed up to above 50 °F (10 °C) during the day, but went down to near freezing at night. As powerless houses grew cold, residents bundled up and kept under blankets, went to stay or visit with others who had power, or used their car heaters to temporarily warm up.[49] Some, frustrated by long blackouts after other recent storms, considered leaving the region or moving to cities where power lines were underground.[50] About 500,000 households in New Jersey were left without power, prompting a state of emergency declaration from governor Chris Christie,[32] who had himself lost electricity both at his house in Mendham and the governor's mansion, Drumthwacket, near Princeton.[51] Along the Jersey Shore, the nor'easter produced coastal flooding that left Ventnor Heights isolated. Officials closed a portion of the Black Horse Pike in West Atlantic City due to flooding.[52] Further north, the flooding closed five New Jersey state highways in Monmouth and Ocean counties.[53]

In Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy declared a state of emergency late on October 29,[41] after 830,000 people lost power, breaking the record set after Hurricane Irene.[43] Outages were so severe in the Danbury area that seven school districts had to cancel classes for the following week.[54] A state of emergency was also declared in Massachusetts, which allowed for the activation of the state's National Guard as well as other emergency measures.[35] Due to the power outages and downed trees shortly before Halloween, at least three towns in the state advised delaying trick-or-treating.[35] In New Hampshire, officials opened seven shelters for people who lost heating during the storm.[43] The early snowfall allowed for the opening of ski resorts in Vermont and Maine.[35]

A snow-covered road with one small tree down across it, in early morning light. On either side are trees, many still in leaf, heavy and bent with snow.
Downed and bent trees blocking a road the morning after the storm in Granby, CT

By November 1, Governor Malloy estimated at a press conference that the storm damages in Connecticut would exceed $3 billion. Two days later, close to 700,000 homes and businesses remained in the power outage.[3] A week after the storm, almost 150,000 customers of the state's two utilities had not yet had power restored. Customers still suffering outages, including actress Mia Farrow at her home in Bridgewater, continued to cope as best they could, by sleeping at the homes of friends who had had power restored, taking showers at work and storing perishables outside.[55]

Many Conecticut residents were angry with the state's electric utilities, particularly Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P), which serves most of the state, for the long delays in restoring service. By the weekend after the storm, in comparison, most customers in other affected states had gotten their power back. Malloy said they had "missed their own target" and ordered an investigation into their preparation and restoration efforts to be led by James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Clinton Administration. An Avon man complained he had not seen any crews in his area since the storm.[56] Some commentators felt Malloy was being too lenient with CL&P, noting that the company had cut its maintenance budget in the preceding year and that smaller public utilities, such as that serving the city of Norwich, had experienced far less power loss and for far less time despite CL&P's customers paying the highest rates in the contiguous United States.[57] Similar complaints had been made after the company had taken a long time to restore service after Hurricane Irene, and three weeks after the nor'easter, Jeff Butler, the company's CEO, resigned.[58]

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  55. ^ Harris, Elizabeth A. (November 6, 2011). "Thousands Still Without Power in Connecticut". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/nyregion/in-connecticut-thousands-still-without-power.html. Retrieved November 6, 2011. 
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