Elsewhere, storm was less than advertised, but region got genuine blizzard

Jason Thierbar shovels the sidewalk in front of his home along Huntington Street in New London on Tuesday.
Jason Thierbar shovels the sidewalk in front of his home along Huntington Street in New London on Tuesday.

Though the snowstorm that moved through the region Tuesday may not have lived up to prognostication elsewhere, southeastern Connecticut felt the full brunt of the blizzard, finding itself blanketed beneath about 2 feet of snow.

While total snow accumulation was roughly in line with what had been forecast, fears of extended power outages did not materialize, and a state-imposed travel ban kept roads empty for plow drivers to clear the falling snow.

"We have our main arteries open, we have the resources we need, we pre-planned very well, we're operating off of our plan and it is going very smoothly," New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said. "When you get two feet of snow and it snows for 24 to 48 hours, the snow doesn't get cleared in 18 hours. We're moving as quickly as possible to get the city plowed out."

Tuesday's weather was a tale of two storms, said Gary Lessor, a meteorologist at the Western Connecticut State University Weather Center.

"This is why weather forecasting is difficult," he said. "No two towns are alike."

In the western part of the state, snowfall totals ranged between 5 and 10 inches. But the story was much different in the eastern part, where snowfall totals ranged between 20 and 28 inches, with some areas experiencing even higher amounts.

He said New London and Windham counties received the brunt of the storm, which evolved into a blizzard during the early-morning hours.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the state Department of Transportation reported 24 inches of snow had fallen in Groton and Norwich, and 25 inches in Colchester.

Putnam got the most snow, according to the state DOT data, with 30.5 inches.

The fiercest part of the storm occurred between 2 and 8 a.m. Tuesday, when it was snowing at a rate of 2 to 4 inches an hour. Lessor said the storm met the two main criteria of a blizzard: For three consecutive hours, the visibility was less than a quarter mile and the wind gusted to at least 35 mph.

Though the thought of losing power for an extended period of time worried municipal leaders, Connecticut Light & Power reported just 14 outages early Tuesday morning.

Al Lara, a spokesman for CL&P parent company Northeast Utilities, said the snow was light and powdery, posing little threat to power lines that typically come down under ice or wet and heavy snow.

'Soft and fluffy'

Bone-numbing wind and blinding snow swept through downtown New London on Tuesday morning, creating monstrous drifts and reducing visibility to only a few feet.

The drift in front of the city's finance office on Masonic Street was taller than the doorway, a scene that was repeated along Eugene O'Neill Drive, Water Street and other downtown roadways.

Douglas Henton of the Department of Public Works said it was some of the worst snow he's seen in the 26 years he's lived in this area.

"It's horrible," Henton said. "We've been here since (Monday), since before the storm started."

Despite the 2 feet of snow piled on city roads, all 64 miles of roadway in the city had been plowed at least once between 2 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday, Finizio said.

"With some snowdrifts as high as they are, it is going take a while to break through to each street," he said. "Our DPW logistics chief believes that our best estimate for getting a path down every street is that we can accomplish that (by midday today) with full plowing completed" by midday Thursday.

Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said there were as many as 850 plow drivers on the roads at the height of the storm early Tuesday morning.

"The good news is that the snow is soft and fluffy so it's easy to plow," Nursick said. "The bad news is that it's so windy that it's creating big drifts."

Though snow accumulation was not as great as some had predicted, it still posed a challenge for public works crews to clear, Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward said Tuesday afternoon from the town's Emergency Operations Center.

"It's probably a little lighter than what we anticipated, but it's still extremely difficult to work with because there's just no place to put it," he said.

The snow didn't let up until late afternoon in Norwich, but residents and business couldn't wait for the last of the snow to end before tackling the monumental job of digging out from an estimated 2 feet of snow.

On Union Street across from Norwich City Hall, the father and son team of Ben and John Ahrens took a break and leaned on their shovel handles, admiring the 6-foot high snow bank they created by clearing out Ben's wife's car and his car a short distance away. In between the two, a big lump of untouched snow remained.

"I think it's a Toyota Camry," Ben Ahrens said of a neighbor's buried car.

All city streets were passable by mid-afternoon, but Norwich Public Works Director Barry Ellison said many need more clearing. For today, he plans to assign crews to the congested areas of Greeneville, downtown and Taftville to remove snow to stockpile it elsewhere.

Because New London was one of the hardest-hit areas of the state, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy committed National Guard members to assist in the city overnight, Finizio said. Ten Guardsmen were on the ground Tuesday evening helping the recovery efforts in Stonington, according to Capt. Mike Petersen, a National Guard spokesman.

The city of Bridgeport sent four plow trucks to New London on Tuesday night to help with snow removal, assistance that came about when Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch contacted former New London Mayor Kevin Cavanagh to offer his assistance.

By 8 a.m. today, Finizio said, private contractors will begin the process of clearing the downtown neighborhood. Those crews will finish clearing the streets, make sidewalks passable and haul snow to dumping sites around the city.

Stonington First Selectman George Crouse said 14 Guardsmen and officers stationed in Niantic have been sent to the town along with heavy equipment to help with removing snow from the roads. Crouse said they will not be plowing but will be given assignments to remove snow and truck it away.

He said they will start work in Pawcatuck and also concentrate on removing snow from the school parking lots after equipment used by subcontractors broke down today.

Two births at L+M

In Groton, public works crews battled with snow that blew back into the roads right after plowing, frustrating workers, Director of Emergency Management Joseph Sastre said.

"You plow the road, you come back 45 minutes later, and it looks like you haven't even been there," he said.

Groton plows also cleared the way for ambulances and fire trucks as a half dozen emergency calls came in after 5 a.m. Tuesday, including one for a woman in labor at 7 a.m., Sastre said.

"Her husband called and the fire department did get her up to the E.R.," Sastre said.

Two pregnant women were taken by ambulance Tuesday morning to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, where both women gave birth by the afternoon, hospital spokesman Mike O'Farrell said.

At L+M, ample staff worked extra shifts and stayed over to cover for others who couldn't get in, O'Farrell said. The same was true at the L+M affiliates that stayed open Tuesday, The Westerly Hospital and Pequot Health Center in Groton.

Outpatient centers that closed early Monday are scheduled to reopen at 11 a.m. today, and elective surgery will also resume today, O'Farrell said. Emergency department volumes have been steady throughout the blizzard, he said.

The William W. Backus Hospital reported a handful of snow blower injuries and cardiac incidents in its emergency department, according hospital spokesman Shawn Mawhiney. Specific numbers were not available.

At Backus, about 250 staff members slept over Monday night. Both the main hospital in Norwich and the Plainfield Backus Emergency Care Center remained open throughout the storm.

Backus outpatient centers, which closed early Monday, will reopen at noon today.

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

Staff Writers Izaskun Larraneta, Joe Wojtas, Tess Townsend and Claire Bessette contributed to this report.

Residents excavate their cars Tuesday along Prospect Street in the Greeneville section of Norwich. The digging started before the snow stopped.          SEAN D. ELLIOT/THE DAY
Residents excavate their cars Tuesday along Prospect Street in the Greeneville section of Norwich. The digging started before the snow stopped. SEAN D. ELLIOT/THE DAY

Blizzard by the numbers

5-10
Western Connecticut totals, in inches
20-28
Eastern Connecticut totals, in inches
2-14
Rate of snowfall, in inches per hour, between 2 and 8 a.m. Tuesday
850
Number of state plow drivers on the road Tuesday morning.

READER COMMENTS

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POLL

So, how much snow will Southeast Connecticut end up getting by midday Wednesday?

I'm not a betting man/woman.

1%

6 inches to 1 foot

2%

1 foot to 18 inches

9%

18 inches to 2 feet

27%

2 feet to 30 inches

43%

30 inches to 3 feet

8%

This is a bogus exercise because the rules are fluid. Are we talking about snowdrift height too?

6%

How much is a lot?

4%

Number of votes: 371