'Weird' snowstorm doesn't quite measure up

Buy Photo Sean D. Elliot/The Day Jack Amaral, a student from Princeton Day School in New Jersey, heaves a harpoon as his classmates offer up vocal encouragement. During their visit to the Mystic Seaport on Wednesday, the students were taught the nuances of throwing a whale harpoon from Hallie Payne, right, the director of community sailing and overnight programs at the Seaport.

Wednesday's weird and wild winter storm finally wound down to a whimper in the early hours of this morning.

How weird was it?

The snowstorm was predicted to deposit up to 16 inches of snow on Connecticut. Besides falling substantially short of that total - about half in most places - it dumped more than 2 feet of snow on states to the south that hardly ever deal with more than a dusting, from Virginia to Delaware.

How weird was it?

According to WTNH meteorologist Geoff Fox, for a few minutes Wednesday it was snowing and raining at the same time. Fox confirmed there was a recording of simultaneous precipitation at Groton-New London airport at 3:48 p.m. Visibility varied from less than a mile to up to five miles, depending up on the type and intensity of the precipitation and the strength of the wind, which varied throughout the day from 10 to 25 mph, with gusts climbing even higher.

How weird was it?

It was a challenge for the professionals to determine how much of each form of precipitation fell.

"I'd love to give you a good answer," Fox said, trying to explain the shortfall in snow accumulation. "But I can't. The best I can tell you is that the temperatures were a few degrees warmer than anticipated. Every snowflake that fell melted. Snowflakes committed suicide."

Fox said that by the end of the storm, which was expected to end by daybreak today in southern New England, a total of about four to eight inches will have fallen.

"The total accumulation isn't the story," Fox said, adding that the elevated temperatures that allowed the snow to become rain dropped in the evening hours, resulting in a layer of snow atop roadways and sidewalks coated with ice.

"People are waking up to a layer of snow that's hiding treacherous patches of ice," he said. "There will be some delays."

Across the region Wednesday, residents, visitors - and animals - found different ways to ride out the storm.

Learning experience

Even though the wind off the Mystic River drove snow into their faces Wednesday morning, students from the Princeton (N.J.) Day School were not going to let a snowstorm spoil their chance to play the part of a 19th-century harpooner.

The middle school-aged students, who are spending two days at Mystic Seaport and sleeping in one of the museum buildings, practiced plunging a harpoon into the water. The only difference was they were standing on a dock and not the rolling deck of a whaling ship.

One of their teachers, Hank Bristol, said the school never considered canceling the trip. He pointed out that this week students from his school were also on field trips to locations such as Gettysburg, New York City and Cape Cod, where they were hiking.

Haille Payne, the museum's supervisor of community sailing and overnight programs, said whaling ship crews had to work no matter the weather.

"My staff and I, we carry on as normal," she said.

After the harpoon-throwing, Payne walked through the village with six students and talked to them about what sailors ate, such savory items as hardtack and salt pork.

She and the students climbed the stairs onto the deck of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, which is being restored in the museum shipyard. Snow pelted the thick plastic sheeting that protects the deck from the elements.

The students sat below deck and listened to Payne talk about shipboard life, how much sailors earned and what happened when someone got sick or died.

"I think our teachers (back in Princeton) were sent home today. But I'd rather be here than anywhere else," Bristol said as he listened to Payne.

- Joe Wojtas

No shortage of nursing

The four babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital Wednesday certainly weren't going to be changing any of their plans just because of a blizzard, so it fell to Michelle Bull and the other registered nurses caring for them to be there no matter what the weather.

"My patients rely on me," said Bull, who lives in Pawcatuck with her husband and two young children.

Her husband, an officer for U.S. Customs in Providence, was able to work from home on Wednesday and stay with the children. Michelle Bull left around 11:30 a.m. to be at her job three hours early, and was prepared to stay overnight in one of the family rooms at the hospital.

Torie Langer, an advanced-practice nurse practitioner who works in the NICU and labor-and-delivery departments, traded shifts with a coworker so they both could stay off the roads during the storm. At about 3:30 p.m., not even halfway through her 8 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift, Langer said she had already helped with five of the six deliveries that day, an unusually high number. Pregnant women near their due date often go into labor during snowstorms, she said, a phenomenon probably related to the drop in barometric pressure.

In L&M's cardiac catheterization lab, registered nurse Linda Blinn-Smolen was planning to spend the night in a room at the hospital after her shift ended at 5 p.m., occupying herself with knitting, reading and television. She lives in Bozrah, normally a half-hour drive.

"I'm on call, and if we have to do an emergency angioplasty, I have to be here very quickly," she said. "The mantra is, 'Time is muscle,' and the quicker you open up the artery, the less damage there is to the heart."

- Judy Benson

Serving up a safe haven

On a day when many businesses, banks and the Otis Library were closed, the busiest lunch spot in downtown Norwich was the St. Vincent de Paul Place.

The soup kitchen served more than 100 meals within its first lunch shift Wednesday and allowed patrons to linger afterward to watch TV, do crossword puzzles, chat or nap in a corner booth.

Chef Mike Sforza of Norwich said the kitchen normally serves 150 to 200 meals within the 90-minute lunch period. By 11:45 a.m., all tables and booths were occupied, and a few people waited for servings of meat lasagna, garlic bread, white bean soup and dessert. Others filled grocery bags at the small food pantry in the corner.

A lunch guest named Paul said he welcomed the snow as a source of income.

"You can't shovel rain," he said.

The soup kitchen closed at 2 p.m., and the homeless shelter next door at the Buckingham Memorial building opened early for registered patrons to hang out. Director Jillian Corbin gave shelter staff member Ralph Parsons the key to allow them to walk back across the driveway to the soup kitchen for dinner.

- Claire Bessette

Plowing ahead with studies

Most students had Wednesday off from school. Just don't tell the McKenzie boys.

Andrea Rodolico McKenzie's two sons, 10-year-old Caleb and 8-year-old Micah, are home-schooled, so the snow didn't stop them from getting to class. As the snow came down, Caleb hunkered down to review Latin prefixes and suffixes and Micah practiced adding and subtracting mixed fractions - "some nice brain-warming stuff," McKenzie said.

"They don't know that people get snow days. And the whole Monday holidays, they're just starting to catch on with that," McKenzie said. "When they get older, I think I'll have to answer to that."

Instead, the boys take "warm-weather days," a chance to skip class on those hot, sticky days in May.

The two boys wrapped up their work around noon, with plans to go outside and enjoy the day like their public-schooled peers.

And once they're back inside their Gales Ferry house, McKenzie said, the boys will warm up with some freshly baked sticky buns and the final chapters to Laura Ingalls Wilder's novel "The Long Winter."

"We thought it was a good day to finish that," she said.

- Matt Collette

Courts in session

Some things just can't be canceled.

New London Superior Court opened as usual Wednesday morning.

"We're continuing stuff like crazy," said Peter A. McShane, the supervisory assistant state's attorney at the courthouse on Broad Street.

Staff called many of the attorneys who were scheduled to appear to cancel their cases, and the state's attorney's office accomodated anyone who wanted to reschedule due to the snowstorm.

However, "there are people who have to appear in court today, especially if it's a domestic (violence case)," said McShane. "Also, people who were arrested yesterday and have a bond have to appear before a judge today."

He said there were four people "off the streets," or in the courthouse lockup awaiting arraignment before 10 a.m. Staff canceled the cases of prisoners that would have been taken to court today by the Department of Correction and opened the courthouse early, at 7:45 a.m., so that business could be conducted before the full fury of the storm arrived.

All of the criminal cases in the New London courthouses were called by 11:30 a.m.

Judge Susan B. Handy was on the bench for about an hour in the Huntington Street courthouse, where major crimes are heard. Judge Matthew E. Frechette opened the Broad Street court early and the docket was finished by 11:30 a.m. In Norwich, Judge Robert Young wrapped up his business at noontime.

- Karen Florin

Creature comforts

When it gets really cold and snowy out, the chickens at Groton Family Farm on Fort Hill Road prefer to stay indoors.

"They don't like to stay indoors … 'cause they like to have the sunshine and the fresh air and running around," said Warren Burrows, who owns the farm. "But in storms like this, they just coop up in their coops."

The farm's 350 chickens huddle together for warmth, and the extra energy they expend to stay warm means a drop in production, Burrows said - from about 18 to 20 dozen eggs a day to about 14 to 17 dozen, Burrows said.

Life at the farm was otherwise unaltered by Wednesday's snowstorm. The farm's 10 Shetland sheep are thick with wool and aren't bothered by the snow, Burrows said.

- Jenna Cho

Perfect day to stay Inne

Wood burning in the fireplace, hot cider with spiced rum on the specials board, and conversation.

Sixteen people huddled at closely-nestled wooden tables in the pub at Mystic's Captain Daniel Packer Inne Wednesday afternoon, staring out large windows at the wind-whipped snow, taking a break from work, or just taking a break.

Marge Loughlin, who lives down the street and is retired, ordered a Bloody Mary and toasted a friend, Karen, who skipped work for the day.

"This is where I come" when it snows, said Karen. "Look out the window, you see the boats ... and in the winter, it's mostly locals, too, which is nice."

The three-story Colonial inn "never closes" during normal business hours, said owner Lulu Kiley as she oversaw preparation for an office party that arrived at 12:30 and took over a room on the second floor. Her husband, the late Dick Kiley, saw to that, she said, and now, so does she.

About 15 people from the Nexus Resin Group next door, which distributes and resells plastic, included salespeople here from Texas, California and Illinois.

"I came to get away from the snow," joked John Jung-Johann, who lives in Chicago.

Staying open meant that the local help worked, while out-of-towners were given the day off, Kiley said. And it meant that singer/guitarist James Harris was expected to show up to play around 10:15 p.m., though "waiting and seeing" was the order of the day as the snow intensified, she said.

By happy hour, the inn had the usual full house.

Boaters and local residents usually make it to the inn for happy hour no matter what the weather's like, Kiley said, adding, "They have to be sick or out of the country" not to come.

- Patricia Daddona

Fewer calls for the wild

For Waterford Animal Control Officer Robert Winters, the calm is during the storm.

"There's lower instances of animal calls" during snowstorms, he said. "I think it's that people don't let animals out during the snow and animals don't go too far in the snow. When people see them, they sometimes grab them and house them."

While the phones at the Waterford/East Lyme animal shelter were quiet Wednesday, Winters expected the calls to increase today and Friday.

He said the calls typically increase on the days after snowstorms because people who housed animals will request help finding the owners or want the animals picked up.

As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Winters said he had no calls for animals or wildlife help, which is something he expected. But when he does get calls during snowstorms, it makes his job easier.

"It's a little easier to track animals through the snow, but it does make it more urgent to get them," he said.

Winters, who is the animal control officer in East Lyme and Waterford, used Wednesday's down time to catch up on paperwork, look into roaming dog or nuisance complaints and worked to adopt out animals at the shelter.

There was also some physical labor on the to-do list.

"And I'll shovel around," he said.

- Michael Naughton

A family affair

The grand plan at the Ennis home on Quinebaug Drive in Preston on Wednesday was to catch up on favorite television shows and e-mail, cook and maybe do some laundry.

By early afternoon the first item on her list had been accomplished: DVR'ed episodes of "The Bachelor" and "Better Connecticut" had been watched and Gale Ennis had moved onto the next task.

"I've just made a big pot of chili and now I'm looking at my house, which I really need to clean, but maybe I'll take a nap," she said, laughing.

Ennis had gone into work at the Dime Bank executive offices at 8:30 a.m. only to return home 90 minutes later after the offices closed.

Her daughters, Chelsea, 24, a substitute teacher for Norwich Public Schools and a college student, and Mallarie, 23, who works at the Chelsea Groton Bank on Norwich's west side, also took advantage of the snow day.

"Other than being told to clean my room, it's a pretty normal day," Chelsea said. "Right now I'd be at Kelly Middle School as a gym teacher, but instead I'm watching TV with my mother."

Aside from lounging around, Chelsea spent time e-mailing her boyfriend, James VanMameren of Norwich, a sergeant with the Connecticut National Guard military police unit stationed in Iraq.

"I wanted to tell him about the snow, and wish him Happy Valentine's Day," she said.

- Megan Bard

Answering the call

The Gales Ferry and Ledyard Center fire departments put out separate calls at about 5:45 Wednesday evening asking for volunteer firefighters to bunk at the firehouses if they were able to do so.

Jason Powers at the Gales Ferry Fire Department said he would be one of three lieutenants in the house Wednesday night. Other volunteers were expected to join them.

Powers, who is also in the Navy, was scheduled to muster at the Old Mystic department, where he also volunteers, but instead headed north to Ledyard when the call went out.

Powers said firefighters would spend their idle time tidying up equipment, stocking medical kits and loading bags of ice-melting products onto trucks.

Ledyard Fire Department Capt. Steven Daggett said a full crew of seven responded to the call-in at his firehouse. He said a full staff keeps working while they are there, making sure all of the company's equipment is ready to go into service, from making sure there's gas in the vehicles to ensuring tools are clean and ready to go.

- Chuck Potter

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