On October 27, I was already frantically emailing and calling people about what computer models, particularly the European model, were showing. We would all likely see snowflakes that weekend, but inland areas could have several inches, perhaps more if things went right (or wrong) along with powerful winds well over 30 or 40 MPH. This storm would come towards us south of Long Island and head over the "40/70 benchmark", a centered position at 40 degrees north and 70 degrees west, a classic track for devastating winter nor'easters. Model consensus was soon to follow, and the National Weather Service along with many Connecticut meteorologists were quickly warning the public of the utter devastation that would follow because of the fact leaves were still on the trees. I also wondered how some of the later-moving or simply late birds, from warblers to sparrows to vireos and other stragglers, would do in such a situation.
It turned out to be colder initially as the powerful storm brought in chilly air and was even more intense in some areas, dumping more than a foot of snow in many locations in Connecticut and feet in parts of Massachusetts. For all of the tree damage that occurred in Irene along the coast, even more occurred inland in many areas because of this storm.
Heavy snow in Stratford with nearly every tree still completely full of leaves; mixing and turning to rain for several hours saved the coastline
The amounts did not matter as much once we went past several inches because so little is necessary to damage or destroy a tree still full of leaves. The Taunton, MA, NWS office has a great storm summary here. Below are the Connecticut totals courtesy of the NWS:
...HARTFORD COUNTY... WINDSOR LOCKS 20.3 200 PM 10/30 BRADLEY AIRPORT BRISTOL 17.0 1256 AM 10/30 EAST FARMINGTON HEIG 13.0 138 AM 10/30 BURLINGTON 12.5 806 AM 10/30 FINAL WEST HARTFORD 11.5 742 AM 10/30 GENERAL PUBLIC MANCHESTER 11.0 342 PM 10/30 HAM RADIO ENFIELD 9.0 900 AM 10/30 SOUTH WINDSOR 8.0 730 AM 10/30 SOUTHINGTON 6.0 1205 AM 10/30 HAM RADIO ...TOLLAND COUNTY... COVENTRY 9.8 313 AM 10/30 VERNON 9.0 132 AM 10/30 HAM RADIO STORRS 6.5 918 AM 10/30 ROCKVILLE 4.0 1055 PM 10/29 ...WINDHAM COUNTY... POMFRET 8.0 911 AM 10/30 HAMPTON 6.0 629 AM 10/30 ASHFORD 6.0 1023 AM 10/30 HAM RADIO EAST KILLINGLY 5.8 727 AM 10/30 PUTNAM 3.0 1022 AM 10/30 HAM RADIO DANIELSON 2.5 926 AM 10/30 HAM RADIO ...LITCHFIELD COUNTY... BAKERSVILLE 18.6 830 AM 10/30 CO-OP OBSERVER WINSTED 18.0 800 AM 10/30 1215 FEET ELEVATION LITCHFIELD 16.5 600 AM 10/30 CT DOT NEW MILFORD 14.0 1210 AM 10/30 PUBLIC WINCHESTER CENTER 13.5 600 AM 10/30 CT DOT THOMASTON 13.5 600 AM 10/30 CT COT FALLS VILLAGE 12.8 840 AM 10/30 TRAINED SPOTTER NEW PRESTON 12.8 845 AM 10/30 TRAINED SPOTTER NORTH CANAAN 12.0 600 AM 10/30 CT DOT ...FAIRFIELD COUNTY... DANBURY 17.2 800 AM 10/30 SKYWARN SPOTTER RIDGEFIELD 17.0 630 AM 10/30 PUBLIC SHELTON 12.8 745 AM 10/30 PUBLIC-480FT ELEVATION GREENWICH 12.0 1230 AM 10/30 PUBLIC BETHEL 11.5 830 AM 10/30 SKYWARN SPOTTER 3 SSE BROOKFIELD 11.0 700 AM 10/30 COCORAHS BROOKFIELD 11.0 700 AM 10/30 SKYWARN SPOTTER WILTON 10.8 840 AM 10/30 PUBLIC MONROE 10.5 930 AM 10/30 SKYWARN SPOTTER NEW CANAAN 6.0 400 AM 10/30 CT DOT NORWALK 5.5 600 AM 10/30 PUBLIC NEWTOWN 5.0 323 PM 10/29 SKYWARN SPOTTER BRIDGEPORT 4.0 715 AM 10/30 NWS COOP DARIEN 3.5 559 PM 10/29 SKYWARN SPOTTER STAMFORD 3.5 730 AM 10/30 SKYWARN SPOTTER ...MIDDLESEX COUNTY... EAST HADDAM 8.1 830 AM 10/30 PUBLIC OLD SAYBROOK 2.5 400 AM 10/30 CT DOT HADDAM 2.0 400 AM 10/30 CT DOT ...NEW HAVEN COUNTY... OXFORD 12.3 1230 AM 10/30 SKYWARN SPOTTER SOUTHBURY 10.5 400 AM 10/30 CT DOT WATERBURY 8.8 400 AM 10/30 CT DOT BEACON FALLS 8.8 400 AM 10/30 CT DOT NORTH HAVEN 7.7 705 AM 10/30 SKYWARN SPOTTER SEYMOUR 7.0 457 PM 10/29 PUBLIC HAMDEN 7.0 740 AM 10/30 PUBLIC MERIDEN 7.0 400 AM 10/30 CT DOT WALLINGFORD 6.1 830 AM 10/30 SKYWARN SPOTTER 2 NW NEW HAVEN 2.8 800 AM 10/30 COCORAHS 3 ESE MILFORD 2.6 1010 AM 10/30 COCORAHS
Considering the Hartford area had three snow events previously in October, with only a little over an inch being the record there and in many locations, records were shattered across countless towns and cities in the region. Parts of Connecticut have seen some October snow, yes, but mostly at elevation and never at such a magnitude or widespread manner. There is no comparison to be made with this storm. It was a multi-century event, and I would have to believe it could be upwards of a 300 or 500-year system. These types of storms are severe, notable, and dangerous in January, forget before Halloween.
There were surprisingly few odd bird reports, but I think this is mostly because over half the state was without power, and many were focused on safety rather than seeing a strange feeder species or finding birds taking refuge in warm pockets or near open water. Coastal areas did have a very quick uptick in quantity of birds and overall species counts in the days immediately after as these areas were left with little snow in comparison. As such, the coast was a destination for many birds fleeing the suddenly uninhabitable north. I noticed birds like Savannah Sparrows flying in to Stratford Point on Halloween, a strange sight in itself in the middle of the day. I also had a male and female Eastern Bluebird fly in that day, the first time I have ever seen the species at the site, and the second they have ever been recorded there, clearly birds trying to escape the snow cover to the north. They went right to flycatching after their arrival.
Now we are left to survey damage across the landscape of the state, from yards robbed of important oak trees to sanctuaries with sizable holes in the canopy. One would imagine more damage will be coming from the next big snowstorm or any ice storm that impacts Connecticut this winter as much of the woody vegetation remains weakened and damaged, ready to break or fall with any more punishment. Connecticut Audubon Society's Croft Preserve in Goshen was a location I would have been very concerned about, with hundreds of acres of upland hardwoods, though our Conservation Biologist Twan Leenders reports it has very little if any damage. It seems to be an exception to the rule.
All of what has occurred in 2011 is something to learn from. The weather, and these increasingly frequent severe events, is another constantly changing variable in our management plans across the state. What I am still pondering is whether some birds were also able to accurately predict this astonishing snowfall...more on that soon.