STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — An unusually early and powerful nor’easter along the East Coast began dumping several inches of wet, heavy snow Saturday that weighed down or toppled leafy trees and power lines and combined with high winds to knock out power to hundreds of thousands.
Communities inland in mid-Atlantic states were getting hit hardest, with eastern Pennsylvania serving as the bull’s-eye for the storm, said National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro. Some places got more than half a foot of snow, and towns near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border saw 10 inches fall.
More than 580,000 customers lost power from Maryland north through Connecticut, and utilities were bringing in crews from other states to help restore it. Officials had warned that the early storm would bring sticky snow on the heels of the week’s warmer weather and could create dangerous conditions.
And the storm was expected to worsen as it swept north. The heaviest snowfall was forecast for later in the day into Sunday in the Massachusetts Berkshires, the Litchfield Hills in northwestern Connecticut, southwestern New Hampshire and the southern Green Mountains. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph were predicted especially along coastal areas.
“This is more like a February-type situation,” Vaccaro said.
The snow was difficult for business, too, said Gary Warn, an owner of the Hen House restaurant in Frostburg, Md.
Lunchtime was “dead empty,” he said, and he wasn’t optimistic about dinner reservations.
“As I’m looking out the window right now, the damage is already done. I don’t know,” he said Saturday afternoon.
The storm disrupted travel along the Eastern Seaboard. Several airports had hours-long delays Saturday, including Philadelphia’s and two that serve New York City, Newark Liberty and Kennedy. The smaller airport in Teterboro, N.J., was briefly closed. Amtrak suspended service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., and commuter trains in Connecticut and New York were delayed or suspended because of downed trees and signal problems.
Residents were urged to avoid travel altogether. Speed limits were reduced on bridges between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A few roads closed because of accidents and downed trees and power lines, and more were expected, said Sean Brown, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Some said that even though they knew a storm was coming, the severity caught them by surprise.
“This is absolutely a lot more snow than I expected to see today. I can’t believe it’s not even Halloween and it’s snowing already,” Carole Shepherd of Washington Township, N.J. said after shoveling her driveway.
The storm came on a busy weekend for many, with trick-or-treaters going door-to-door in search of Halloween booty, hunting season opening in some states and a full slate of college and pro football scheduled.
Fans in State College were making the most of what school officials said was the first measurable snowfall for any October home game since records began being kept in 1896. The crowds were thinner, but “the die-hards are here,” said T.J. Coursen of Centre Hall, an alum, as a steady heavy snow fell.
“I never thought about not going,” said sophomore Tim Tallmadge. “You only get to be in the student section for four years.”
The snow failed to deter the travel plans of Dave Baker, who’s been going to Penn State football games for 45 years and made the 200-mile drive from Warminster, outside Philadelphia. He merely adjusted his packing list: Out went the breakfast fixings — his group ate early at a restaurant rather than at the tailgate — in stayed the burgers and hot dogs. And the cold came in handy.
“I didn’t have to buy as much ice for the beer,” he said.
Elsewhere outside the stadium, 11-year-old Cody Carnes of Pittsburgh made a large snowball as he sweated underneath five layers of clothes — a rain slicker, coat, sweat shirt, T-shirt and thermal. Another fan wore a foam Donkey Kong costume headpiece as he walked to a tailgate.
“It keeps my head nice and warm,” explained Matt Langston, 25, a graduate student from Harrisburg.
In eastern Pennsylvania, snow caused widespread problems. It toppled trees and a few power lines and led to minor traffic accidents, according to dispatchers. Allentown, expected to get 4 to 8 inches, is likely to break the city’s October record of 2.2 inches on Halloween in 1925.
Philadelphia was seeing mostly rain, but what snow fell coated downtown roofs in white. The city was expected to get 1 to 3 inches, its first measurable October snow since 1979, with a bit more in some suburbs, meteorologist Mitchell Gaines said.
The last major widespread snowstorm to hit Pennsylvania this early was in 1972, said John LaCorte, a National Weather Service meteorologist in State College.
“It’s going to be very dangerous,” he said.
Southern New Jersey was soaked with heavy rains and winds that ranged from 20 to 35 mph, while northern communities awaited the arrival of 5 to 10 inches of snow. Scattered power outages were reported across the state, and Jersey Central Power & Light, which was heavily criticized for being too slow to restore power following Hurricane Irene, had hundreds of workers set to be deployed if needed.
Parts of New York saw a mix of snow, rain and slush that made for sheer misery at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City, where drenched protesters hunkered down in tents and under tarps as the plaza filled with rainwater and melted snow.
Technically, tents are banned in the park, but protesters say authorities have been looking the other way, even despite a crackdown on generators that were keeping them warm.
“I want to thank the New York Police Department,” said 32-year-old protester Sam McBee, decked out in a yellow slicker and rain pants. “We’re not supposed to have tents. We’re not supposed to have sleeping bags. You go to Atlanta, they don’t have it. You go to Oakland, you don’t have it. And we got it.”
October snowfall is rare in New York, there had been just three October days with measurable snowfall in Central Park since record-keeping began 135 years ago, according to the National Weather Service. The fourth came Saturday, when about 1.3 inches had fallen by mid-afternoon, a record snowfall total for the month of October and the date itself.
Along the coast and in such cities as Boston, relatively warm water temperatures along the Atlantic seaboard could keep the snowfall totals much lower, meteorologist Bill Simpson said, with 1 to 3 inches of snowfall forecast along the I-95 corridor. Washington was expected to get just a dusting.
But October snowfall records could be broken in parts of southern New England, especially at higher elevations, National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Simpson said. The October record for southern New England is 7.5 inches in Worcester in 1979.
Rain and snow were due to begin falling on Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine during the day, with the heaviest snow falling overnight. Parts of southern Vermont could receive more than a foot.
The first measurable snow in New England usually falls in early December, and normal highs for late October are in the mid-50s.
But not everyone was lamenting the unofficial arrival of winter.
Two Vermont ski resorts, Killington and Mount Snow, started the ski season early by opening one trail each over the weekend, thanks to the recent snow and cold. Maine’s Sunday River ski resort also opened for the weekend.
In State College, 14-year-old Mac Charvala and his brother Will, 10, of South Orange, N.J., were using new boogie boards to slide along an inch of slushy snow covering a parking lot, where a slow trickle of cars left plenty of space for them.
“We’ve never been to a snow game before,” said their father, Mike. “It’s an adventure. If you don’t want to have fun, stay home.”
Associated Press writers Ron Todt in Philadelphia; David B. Caruso and Colleen Long in New York; Jay Lindsay in Boston; Eric Tucker in Washington; Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J.; and Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.