Blizzard is coming, and it's a big one

New London — The blizzard that is expected to bury the state in 2 feet or more of snow beginning today has the potential to be among the top five biggest winter storms on record, a National Weather Service meteorologist said Sunday.

“This is not a typical wintertime snowstorm that many folks have lived through and have gone about their daily business during,” said Tim Morrin, an observation program leader at the NWS’s forecast office in Upton, N.Y. “This is very possibly a historic storm. This is something to pay attention to.”

The warning was not ignored Sunday by residents and town officials in southeastern Connecticut as they began to stock up on groceries, prepared to open emergency operations centers and made sure plow trucks were ready to go. Organizations, schools, and towns have begun to consider cancellations while Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged Connecticut residents Sunday to prepare for the storm. He added the state will activate its emergency operations center at 4 p.m. today.

“Although storms can be unpredictable, this storm has the potential to have a significant impact on the state and we need to be prepared,” Malloy said in a statement. “Just as the state is monitoring and preparing, the public should do the same.”

As of Sunday night, Norwich, Colchester and Lyme-Old Lyme had announced that they would dismiss students early today.

Connecticut Light & Power warned its 1.2 million customers in 149 towns and cities across the state to prepare for prolonged power outages from what it called a “potentially crippling and historic snow storm.”

Morrin said today is expected to be cloudy with sporadic snow showers leaving an inch or two of snow. But after dark, Morrin said, the snowfall will pick up.

“There will be a rapid increase in intensity after dark,” he said. “That’s when the heaviest snowfall will be and we are expecting snowfall rates of 2 to 4 inches per hour.”

For Gary Lessor, a meteorologist at the Western Connecticut State University Weather Center, the impending storm looks familiar.

“It looks like it’s going to be a repeat of the Blizzard of 2013, in which we had a widespread slough of 18 to 26 inches across the state and some locations that saw as much as 40 inches,” he said Sunday. “We just don’t know yet where these bands are going to set up and who is going to get whacked and who is just going to get a lot of snow.”

Along the shoreline, Lessor said, residents should be prepared for minor to moderate tidal flooding, regular wind gusts of up to 50 mph and peak wind gusts approaching 60 mph.

At the height of the storm, Morrin said, snow is expected to be falling too quickly for crews to be able to keep roadways clear.

“We’re recommending that no one be on the roadways Monday night through Tuesday,” Morrin said. “The conditions could indeed become life-threatening if someone were to become trapped in their vehicle or out of their vehicle during the height of the storm.”

By daybreak Wednesday, the region should be in “full recovery mode or clean-up mode,” Morrin said. But Lessor cautioned that there is a chance for more light snow Thursday night into Friday, and then a blast of arctic air that will plunge temperatures into the teens.

“Our real next concern is the cold air coming in next week. There is the potential for temperatures in the teens for highs with overnight lows in the interior of 10 or more (degrees) below zero,” he said. “And that is setting up for the first part of February. February is going to be brutally cold.”

Throughout the region, towns were preparing for the snow on Sunday.

“We’re ready. We’ve been ready since the start of the year,” said North Stonington First Selectman Nick Mullane.

Mullane said all town trucks and a full crew of 13 were ready. North Stonington has seven large trucks, two medium-size trucks and two very large loaders on which it puts extra-wide plows, and a 12-foot box plow that it uses to plow the parking lots. When it comes to plowing, Mullane said, town workers “really don’t stop because if we stop and let it build up then we’re going to get in trouble.”

In these types of situations, town workers expect to work into the night to keep up with the storm.

Mullane said this type of situation is tough on the workers, who can work anywhere from “16 to 24 to 36 hours.”

“It’s never pleasant. It’s always expensive,” he said.

North Stonington has a highway garage that has a full kitchen, where food is stocked in advance in case of a blizzard or hurricane or other inclement weather.

During the last blizzard, Mullane said, North Stonington residents were amazed when they woke up on Sunday morning and all the roads were plowed, and that they were in better condition than some of the state and other town roads because “of the policies and equipment that we have.”

In New London, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio says the city’s emergency operations team will assemble at 11 a.m. today to make a decision about whether to fully activate the city’s Emergency Operations Center. At this point, he said officials are planning to do that. Finizio said that the city is also planning to open its emergency shelter at the Martin Center, and the city’s emergency management direction is pre-planning for a “major incident.”

“I would encourage everyone to take appropriate precautions to prepare for the major winter storm incident this Tuesday and Wednesday, and to be waiting for further info from the city, which will be provided mid-day (today),” Finizio said.

In Stonington Sunday night, First Selectman George Crouse wasn’t waiting as he announced that Town Hall would close at 2 p.m today and be closed on Tuesday. He anticipated the town’s emergency operations center at the police department would open late this afternoon.

CL&P said Sunday it is “preparing to address any storm-related power outages” from downed trees and limbs.

The company said it “is pre-staging employees and materials in locations across the state, and is preparing vehicles for safe travel on slippery roads and in poor weather conditions. In addition to CL&P’s approximately 400 line workers, the company has also secured outside crews in advance of the storm.”

Amtrak said it is planning to operate a normal today schedule but may re-evaluate as conditions warrant. It said it will make announcements about service changes as far in advance as possible, but passengers with reservations for late today and early Tuesday “are strongly encouraged to keep a close eye on conditions and make any necessary changes in advance of their scheduled departure.”

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