In dreary Northeast, snow is both culprit and cure

Posted Feb. 03, 2011, at 5:47 a.m.
Tim Roberts, left, pushes a handful of snow into Shawn McNutt's face, right, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 during a snowball fight at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine.
Joel Page | AP
Tim Roberts, left, pushes a handful of snow into Shawn McNutt's face, right, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 during a snowball fight at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine.
Tim Roberts, left, and Shawn McNutt, right, participate in a snowball fight Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine.
Joel Page | AP
Tim Roberts, left, and Shawn McNutt, right, participate in a snowball fight Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine.
hawn McNutt throws a handful of snow Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 during a snowball fight at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine.
Joel Page | AP
hawn McNutt throws a handful of snow Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 during a snowball fight at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine.
KT Crossman, throws a snowball Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 during a snowball fight at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine.
Joel Page | AP
KT Crossman, throws a snowball Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 during a snowball fight at Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine.

PORTLAND, Maine — When life gives you snow, make snowballs.

That’s the approach many Northeasterners are taking toward one of the most brutal winters in years. They’re staging flash-mob snowball fights, making believe they’re at the beach and creating public art with nature’s icy medium — all in the name of a reprieve from a deadening routine of shoveling, tough commutes and general battening down of the hatches.

“We’re about to go stir-crazy with another foot of snow, so I think it’s time to leave home,” said 35-year-old Molly Bryant Roberts, an L.L. Bean employee from Portland who reveled Wednesday in a word-of-Facebook snowball fight in Deering Oaks Park.

“You’ve got to do something,” she said. “It’s Maine in the wintertime.”

A frozen faceoff after a storm last month drew more than 90 people to the park. The group that showed up Wednesday as a huge winter storm spread into New England was more modest — fewer than 10, probably because the weather made travel treacherous — but the spirit was just as big.

“Why not do something fun?” said high school teacher Ross Kearney, 29, hurling snowballs at friends.

In Rindge, N.H., the director of campus recreation at Franklin Pierce University has put together a winter recreation program aimed at helping students get out of the dorms to beat the winter doldrums.

A sweeping hillside in front of the college president’s office gets turned into a park where snowboarders can pull stunts on rails donated by a ski resort. Students go “snow-kiting,” where they are pulled behind a kite across a frozen lake on campus while on skis or snowboards.

The school sends students on weekly bus trips around New England for skiing, hiking and other outdoor fun. It also holds an annual “Cure for Cabin Fever” event in February, turning an indoor venue into an all-night party.

This year, partygoers will find the building filled with beach sand, palm trees and beach volleyball courts.

In Waterbury, Conn., auto shop worker Harold Figueroa has taken to turning piles of snow on city streets into works of art.

It began about two months ago when the 44-year-old aspiring artist looked at a snow bank and saw what looked to him like the mouth of a turtle. With a little carving and spray painting, it was transformed.

“When I do my artwork and people see my creative work … it makes me happy,” Figueroa said. “I want people to enjoy happiness.”

So far this winter, that happiness includes a snow money, a New England Patriots sign and a replica of a Honda Civic — complete with real tires and rims.

The snowstorms that brought fun for some brought trouble for others. Wind chills were expected to dip to 30 below in parts of the nation’s midsection before the region awoke Thursday to deal with the storm’s aftermath. The sprawling system there unloaded as much as 2 feet of snow, crippled airports and stranded drivers in downtown Chicago as if in a prairie blizzard. Much of Texas was under a hard freeze warning Wednesday.

Officials in the Northeast had warned homeowners and businesses for days of the dangers of leaving snow piled up on rooftops. As the 2,000-mile-long storm cloaked the region in ice and added inches to the piles of snow already settled across the landscape, the predictions came true. No one was seriously injured, however.

In Middletown, Conn., the entire third floor of a building failed, littering the street with bricks and snapping two trees. Acting Fire Marshal Al Santostefano said two workers fled when they heard a cracking sound.

“It’s like a bomb scene,” Santostefano said. “Thank God they left the building when they did.”

A gas station canopy on New York’s Long Island collapsed, as did an airplane hangar near Boston, damaging aircraft. Roof cave-ins also were reported in Rhode Island. The University of Connecticut closed its hockey rink as a precaution because of the amount of ice and snow on the roof. The school hoped to have it inspected and reopened in time for a game Saturday.

Some places in the Northeast that have gotten more snow so far this winter than they usually get the whole season are running out of places to put it. In Portland, the downtown snow-storage area was expected to reach capacity after this week’s storm — the first time in three years that has happened.

“It’s not so much about plowing as it is about where to put it,” said Mike Schumaker, a contractor near Albany, N.Y. “We still have snow from Christmas that hasn’t melted.”

Snow totals in the Northeast hit their peak at several inches in New England, a far cry from the foot or more the region has come to expect with each passing storm in a season full of them. Meanwhile, the Midwest was reeling from the storm’s wallop as the system swept eastward.

Tens of millions of people stayed home Wednesday. The hardy few Midwesterners who ventured out faced howling winds that turned snowflakes into face-stinging needles. Chicago’s 20.2 inches of snow was the city’s third-largest amount on record.

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