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Storm socks state with heavy snow, wind and travel bans

Updated 4:41 pm, Sunday, March 3, 2013

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Staff reports

A double-barrelled low pressure system, fueled by warmer-than-normal temperatures in the North Atlantic, socked the Northeast Friday with an all-day snowfall that shut down highways and just about every school district in the state.

The storm brought blizzard conditions to Connecticut and the entire Northeast with steady snow, high winds and reduced visibility. Wind chill numbers were expected to fall to the single digits by Saturday morning.

The cause of all of this was a pair of low-pressure systems, one from the South and the other from the Great Lakes. Together, the two lows dumped snow from North Carolina to Maine, from Wisconsin to Cape Cod.

Before the combined systems spin offshore by mid-Saturday, about a foot of snow is expected in western Connecticut and two feet east of the Connecticut River. The sun is expected to show itself by Saturday afternoon, and Sunday will be mostly sunny, the National Weather Service said.

Utility companies said they expected as many as 30 percent of their customers to lose power because of strong winds and blizzard conditions. But as of Friday night, the power grid seemed to be holding up in most places.

In Fairfield County, the town with the most homes in the dark was New Canaan, with 280 homes out, or about 3 percent of the customers there. However, a swath of towns near the Rhode Island line saw an increasing number of homes in the dark as the evening progressed, according to Connecticut Light & Power. Stonington had 2,400 without power, while Groton had 1,600 homes without power.

From a percentage perspective, little Lyme was the hardest hit with 480 outages or 42 percent of its homes without electricity. This was to be expected as snowfall totals were greater in the eastern reaches of the state.

In the United Illuminating service area, from Fairfield and Easton east to North Branford, only a smattering of homes were without power Friday night, according to UI.

By 4 p.m., Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had ordered a ban on motor vehicle travel on limited access highways in Connecticut, recalling the action taken by Gov. Ella T. Grasso when a similar storm blanketed Connecticut 35 years ago.

"As the weather gets worse over the next few hours, we need to keep the roads clear, so that emergency-related personnel and utility crews can reach those that may need our help," Malloy said. "By traveling in these conditions, you are not only putting yourself in danger, but you are potentially risking the lives of first responders, utility workers and other residents. Please be safe."

The travel ban will remain in effect until further notice. The prohibitions do not extend to emergency response and recovery vehicles, including public safety vehicles, utility vehicles, and vehicles carrying essential personnel or supplies. Connecticut coordinated its travel ban with those of Massachusetts and New York.

Amtrak stopped running trains in the Northeast shortly after noon. Greater Bridgeport Transit buses also stopped running at 4 p.m.

Metro-North Railroad, meanwhile, reduced service as the afternoon progressed. The New Haven Line had only one train per hour westbound and one every half-hour eastbound after 8 p.m. on Friday.

Earlier in the day, Malloy issued a declaration of emergency that provided him with a number of emergency powers, including the ability to modify or suspend any state statute, regulation, or requirement; and the ability to order civil preparedness forces into action.

Roads were treated in anticipation of the storm, but it soon became apparent that the storm was outstripping the ability of all of the plows and sanders to keep ahead of the deepening white blanket.

Snow was falling in some places at a rate of two to four inches per hour as heavy bands of moisture-laden ocean air spiraled in from the Atlantic.

Shoreline residents -- still recovering from Superstorm Sandy -- not only worried about heavy snow and strong winds, but the threat of coastal flooding especially during high tide around 9:30 p.m. Friday. Wind-whipped tides were expected to be three to four feet above normal, causing flooding and beach erosion.

A man suffered a partially amputated shoulder following a crash Friday morning in Milford, police said. The man, who was not immediately identified, crashed his minivan into some trees at Woodruff Road and North Street about 11 a.m.

Firefighters had to extricate the man from the minivan and he was taken to St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport in serious condition.

In Westport, a local man suffered leg and ankle injuries after his sport utility vehicle struck a tree on the Merritt Parkway. Police said the crash occurred shortly before 10 a.m. between exits 42 and 44. The name of the driver was not immediately released.

Tim Herbst, the first selectman of Trumbull, succinctly tweeted late Friday: "Roads are bad."

His sentiments were echoed by officials just about everywhere in the path of the nor'easter.

Bridgeport Police Chief Joseph Gaudett ordered officers on the day shift to remain in their posts, past the end of their shift, because of the storm. They will receive overtime, he said.

Snow started falling in southwestern Connecticut around 7 a.m. Friday and it steadily increased in intensity throughout the day.

It became a full-blown, howling, blizzard-like affair by nightfall, with winds gusting in excess of 50 mph, blowing snow and creating near zero visibility. Travel was treacherous with car crashes "too numerous to mention," according to State Police.

Typical of many towns in the region, Monroe ordered all parked cars off the streets by about 3 p.m. Friday. The ban will remain in effect until further notice. Police there also requested that all residents refrain from driving around town during the storm.

In local cities such as Bridgeport and Milford, banning all on-street parking isn't an option.

At 5 p.m. Friday, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch ordered a snow emergency, banning parking on the so-called "snow emergency streets" in the city. These include most of the city's major arteries and streets near hospitals.

Finch also said that alternate-side parking rules are in effect, and he ordered that most school parking lots be opened to give people a place to park their cars off city streets so cleanup operations can proceed.

Staff writers Daniel Tepfer, Michael P. Mayko and John Burgeson contributed to this report.