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More than 2 million lose power during rare October storm

A rare October snowstorm blasts across the heavily populated Northeast, knocking out power to about 2.5 million customers, delaying airline flights and leaving several people dead.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

A rare October snowstorm blasted across the heavily populated U.S. Northeast on Saturday, knocking out power to about 2.5 million customers, delaying airline flights and threatening some areas with up to a foot of snow.

Three storm-related deaths were reported. One occurred in Springfield, Mass., where a 20-year-old motorist got out of a car and touched a guardrail electrified by a downed power line, reported. Police Capt. William Collins said the man stopped when he saw police and firefighters examining downed wires and stepped in the wrong place.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, a snow-laden tree fell on a home, killing an 84-year-old man who was napping in his recliner. In Colchester, Conn., there was a traffic-related death, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said.

By 2 p.m. EDT, New York City had broken an October snow record with 1.3 inches in Central Park, making this the snowiest October there since records began being kept in 1869, NBC New York reported.

In a tweet, New York City officials said

that all city parks were closed, citing the risk of falling trees.

Snow came down hard from central Pennsylvania to southeastern New York and southern New England after hitting parts of Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland earlier in the day. Newark, N.J., reported 3.8 inches by 6:06 p.m. EDT, and Harrisburg, Pa., had 5 inches.

Communities inland were getting hit hardest, with eastern Pennsylvania serving as the bull's-eye for the storm. West Milford, N.J., about 45 miles northwest of New York City, had received 15.5 inches of snow by Saturday night, while Plainfield, Mass., had gotten 14.3 inches.

Nearly two feet of snow were reported in Massachusetts' Berkshire Mountains, The Weather Channel said.

By late Saturday, the storm had vacated most of Pennsylvania and was tracking northeast.

Nearly 2.5 million customers lost power from Maryland north through Massachusetts, and utilities were bringing in crews from other states to help restore it. In New Jersey, 665,000 people were without power, including Gov. Chris Christie, who lost electricity about 4 p.m. Utilities in Connecticut reported more than 700,000 without power. Other totals: Pennsylvania, 560,000; Massachusetts, 485,000; New York, 260,000.

Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut declared states of emergencies.

Christie told NBC New York that the hardest-hit parts of New Jersey were in the northern part of the state, including Sussex, Essex, Morris, and Bergen counties. He urged residents to stay off the roads, which will allow power companies to restore power much quicker.

"If you have power count your blessings," he told NBC New York. "And if you don't, find a place to stay warm."

Officials had warned that the heavy, wet snow combined with fully leafed trees could lead to downed tree branches and power lines, resulting in power outages and blocked roads.

Delays were reported at Philadelphia International Airport and at New York area airports. At John F. Kennedy International Airport, some arrivals were delayed by more than four hours, and six hours at Newark Airport. One live flight tracking site, FlightAware, tweeted more than 1,000 flights had been cancelled nationwide.

"It's going to be wet, sticky and gloppy," said NWS spokesman Chris Vaccaro. "It's not going to be a dry, fluffy snow."

Snow, snow and more
Communities inland were expected to get hit hardest. The heaviest snow was forecast for the Massachusetts Berkshires, the Litchfield Hills in northwestern Connecticut, southwestern New Hampshire and the southern Green Mountains.

Relatively warm water temperatures along the Atlantic seaboard could keep the snowfall totals much lower along the coast and in cities such as Boston, National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Simpson said, with 3 inches of snowfall forecast along the I-95 corridor.

While October snow is not unprecedented, records for the month 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.

Big day for snowball
For the college football game between Penn State and the University of Illinois in State College, Pa., fans 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 Center Hall, an alum.

"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.

Penn State won, making Coach Joe Paterno the winningest Division I coach in history.

Misery at Occupy Wall Street camp
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, and Saturday marked just the fourth October day with measurable snowfall in Central Park since record-keeping began 135 years ago, the National Weather Service said.

The storm could bring more than 6 inches of snow to parts of Maine beginning Saturday night. Parts of southern Vermont could receive more than a foot of wet snow Saturday into Sunday.

'Very, very unusual' in Pennsylvania
The state expected 6 to 10 inches could fall at higher elevations, including the Laurel Highlands in the southwestern part of the state and the Pocono Mountains in the northeast. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh could see a coating.

"This is very, very unusual," said John LaCorte, a National Weather Service meteorologist in State College, Pa. "It has all the look and feel of a classic midwinter nor'easter. It's going to be very dangerous."

LaCorte said the last major widespread snowstorm to hit Pennsylvania this early was in 1972.

Allentown was expected to get 4 to 8 inches, which would break the city's October record of 2.2 inches, set on Halloween in 1925.

Philadelphia was seeing mostly rain, but what snow fell coated downtown roofs in white.

'Just wrong' in New England
The first measurable snow usually falls in early December, and normal highs for late October are in the mid-50s.

"This is just wrong," said Dee Lund of East Hampton, who was at a Glastonbury garage getting four new tires for her car before a weekend road trip to New Hampshire.

Lund said that after last winter's record snowfall, which left a 12-foot snow bank outside her house, she'd been hoping for a reprieve.

Others hit hard
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.

Boon for some
But not everyone was lamenting the unofficial arrival of winter.

Steve Hoffman had expected to sell a lot of fall fertilizer this weekend at his hardware store in Hebron. Instead, he spent Friday moving bags of ice melting pellets.

"We're stocked up and we've already sold a few shovels," Hoffman said. "We actually had one guy come in and buy a roof rake."

Simpson cautioned that the early snowfall is not an indication of what the winter might bring.

"This doesn't mean our winter is going to be terrible," he said. "You can't get any correlation from a two-day event."

And in Vermont, the Killington and Mount Snow ski resorts started the season early by opening one trail each over the weekend. Maine's Sunday River ski resort also opened for the weekend.