BOSTON — A behemoth storm packing hurricane-force wind gusts and blizzard conditions swept through the Northeast overnight, where more than 650,000 homes and businesses in the densely populated region lost power, roads were impassable and New Englanders awoke Saturday to more than 2 feet of snow.
More than 38 inches of snow fell in Milford in central Connecticut, and an 82-mph wind gust was recorded in nearby Westport. Areas of southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire notched at least 2 feet — with more falling. Airlines scratched more than 5,300 flights through Saturday, and the three major airports serving New York City as well as Boston's Logan Airport closed.
Flooding was also a concern along the coast, and the possibility led to the evacuation of two neighborhoods in Quincy, Mass., said Fire Deputy Gary Smith. But it did not appear to create major problems in New York and New Jersey, states hit hardest during last October's Superstorm Sandy.
Snow piled up so high in some places Saturday that people couldn't open their doors to get outside. Streets were mostly deserted throughout New England save for plow crews and a few hardy souls walking dogs or venturing out to take pictures. In Boston's Financial District, the only sound was an army of snowblowers clearing sidewalks. Streets in many places were inaccessible.
Some of the worst of the storm appeared to hit Connecticut, where all roads were ordered closed Saturday. The snow made travel nearly impossible even for emergency responders who found themselves stuck on highways all night. In the shoreline community of Fairfield, police and firefighters could not come in to work, so the overnight shift was staying on duty, said First Selectman Michael Tetreau.
"It's a real challenge out there," Tetreau said. "The roads are not passable at this point. We are asking everyone to stay home and stay safe."
In the Hartford suburb of South Windsor, residents used snowblowers to clear driveways that ended in huge snow drifts, with the roads still clogged with roughly 2 feet of undisturbed snow. Some cars were buried to the point they were nearly invisible. Snow had stopped falling, but the swirling wind was blowing fine, powdery snow from trees and rooftops.
Several state police cars were also stuck in deep snow in Maine, where stranded drivers were warned to expect long waits for tow trucks or other assistance.
Road conditions were awful in New Hampshire, said Jim Pierce, who works for the state transportation department and plows driveways in Concord and surrounding towns as a side business. He started plowing about 6:30 a.m. Saturday.
"It takes quite a bit to push this back," he said. "It's fluffy, but there's a lot of it."
Even the U.S. Postal Service closed post offices and suspended mail delivery Saturday in New England.
The wind-whipped snowstorm mercifully arrived at the start of a weekend, which meant fewer cars on the road and extra time for sanitation crews to clear the mess before commuters in the New York-to-Boston region of roughly 25 million people have to go back to work. But halfway through what had been a mild winter across the Northeast, it also could mean a weekend cooped up indoors.
A little more than 11 inches fell in New York City, where carpenter Kevin Byrne was using a scraper to dig out his car Saturday and was relieved the storm hadn't hit the city more strongly. He said he'd taken his shovel out of his car and left it at home.
"I wasn't prepared. ... But was anybody prepared? The last two winters have been so mild," he said. "I've been meaning to buy a salt spreader all winter long, but I just kept putting it off."
Nearly 22 inches of snow fell in Boston and up to 3 feet was expected, the National Weather Service said, threatening the city's 2003 record of 27.6 inches. In the heavily Catholic city, the archdiocese urged parishioners to be prudent and reminded them that, under church law, the requirement to attend Sunday Mass "does not apply when there is grave difficulty in fulfilling this obligation."
Gov. Deval Patrick enacted a statewide driving ban for the first time since the Blizzard of '78, a ferocious storm that dropped 27 inches of snow, packed hurricane-force winds and claimed dozens of lives.
Early snowfall was blamed for a 19-car pileup Friday in Cumberland, Maine, that caused minor injuries. In New York, hundreds of cars got stuck on the Long Island Expressway on Friday, and dozens remained disabled early Saturday as police worked to free them.
About 650,000 customers in the Northeast lost power during the height of the snowstorm, most of them in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Mass., lost electricity and shut down Friday night during the storm. Authorities say there's no threat to public safety.
At least five deaths were blamed on the storm, three in Canada and one in New York. In southern Ontario, an 80-year-old woman collapsed while shoveling her driveway and two men were killed in car crashes. In New York, a 74-year-old man died after being struck by a car in Poughkeepsie; the driver said she lost control in the snowy conditions, police said. One pedestrian was struck by a vehicle and killed Friday night in Prospect, Conn., state police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said.
In Manhattan, streets normally bustling after midnight, were quiet Saturday but for the hum of snowblowers, the scrape of shovels and the laughter from late night revelers who braved the snow.
Bill Tavonallo, 39, said he walked home on purpose from a Manhattan bar to enjoy the snow falling.
"With Sandy, we were scared. But this is wonderful," he said, his glasses crusted with ice. "It's nice to have a reason to slow down."
Fashion Week, a series of designer showings with some activities held under tents, went on mostly as scheduled in the city, though organizers put on additional crews to deal with the snow and ice, turned up the heat and fortified the tents. The snow did require some wardrobe changes: Designer Michael Kors was forced to arrive at the Project Runway show in Uggs.
For Joe DeMartino, of Fairfield, Conn., being overprepared for the weather was impossible: His wife was expecting their first baby Sunday. He stocked up on gas and food, got firewood ready and was installing a baby seat in the car. The couple also packed for the hospital.
"They say that things should clear up by Sunday. We're hoping that they're right," he said.
Said his wife, Michelle: "It adds an element of excitement."