Monday, November 7, 2011


That was one of the many names of the historic, unprecedented, catastrophic, and utterly ridiculous winter storm event that took place on October 29 and 30 in Connecticut and across the northeastern part of the nation. It was classified as Alfred, though you can put me in the category of people who do not like to name anything besides tropical cyclones. It was also one of the most well-predicted major storms in recent memory, coming two months after the superbly projected Hurricane then Tropical Storm Irene. Together they were two of the most widespread disasters in Connecticut history, toppling trees and power lines across the state, reshaping habitats and taxing birds, many of which were not at all prepared to be covered in snow in late October at this latitude.

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

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