Businesses opened late, major shopping malls didn't open at all and the Whalers hockey game was postponed Sunday as Connecticut tried to dig out from a March blizzard that left two dead, dozens injured and 8 to 21 inches of snow.
Despite the intensity of a storm system that engulfed most of the East Coast, relatively little damage occurred in Connecticut.
Digging out wasn't easy. Because of the high water content of the snow and sleet, meteorologist Mel Goldstein said, a shoveler would have moved about 1 ton of material in clearing a 12-by-12-foot area.
One man died in his driveway while shoveling, and the weight of the snow was blamed for the collapse of a patio roof in Wallingford and a canopy over gas pumps at a Southington service station.
The storm moved up the coast from Florida on the anniversary of one of the worst storms on record in the East, the Blizzard of 1888, which dumped up to 5feet of snow on March 12 and 13 of that year.
Although this weekend's snowfall fell far short of that mark, Goldstein said the storm, before it hit the state, set a record by one measure -- barometric pressure.
"It was very likely the most intense storm of the century when you look at whole picture, not just what happened in Connecticut," said Goldstein, director of the Weather Center at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. "The reason was record low barometric pressures -- the signature of intensity -- were set all way from the Carolinas to Pennsylvania."
Once the storm reached Connecticut, he said, the pressure was 28.47 inches in Hartford, "amazingly close" to the record low mark of 28.04 inches set during the September 1938 hurricane.
"I've been forecasting for 25 years," Goldstein said. "I've never remembered a storm of this magnitude, this intense, 1 to 2 foot snowfalls all the way down to northern Georgia and Alabama. We had a hurricane blizzard."
The heavy snow caused numerous problems. Six residents of a Granby condominium complex were hospitalized Sunday morning after snow covered the vents for their propane furnaces, causing fumes to back up into their homes.
Windblown snow closed Bradley International Airport for more than 19 hours before officials managed to clear one runway shortly before noon Sunday. The closing lasted longer than any since 1983, said Walt Waterman, airport operations specialist, who predicted all airlines would be back to normal schedules by Tuesday.
Because of concern about the safety of children, schools in Torrington and Waterbury will remain closed today while snow removal from side streets and sidewalks continues. School officials in New Britain were still debating Sunday night whether to open today.
"March is known to deliver the crowning jewel of the winter season," said Goldstein, "but we haven't had a month of March like this in quite a while. Ifyou were born in the past 20 years, this is going to seem very strange."
Although it is only the midpoint of the month, he said, Connecticut has already had more than 28 inches of March snow, the third-highest total recorded by the National Weather Service in Windsor Locks, behind 33 inches in1967 and 43 inches in 1956.
Spring begins Saturday at 9:41 a.m., but Goldstein said moderate temperatures the next two days are expected to be followed by another blast ofarctic air.
Last week, forecasters warned that a monster storm, possibly the winter storm of the century, was on its way and could cause serious damage from shoreline flooding and widespread power failures from high winds.
But when it reached Connecticut Saturday, the blizzard didn't have as much punch as expected after spawning tornados in Florida and burying parts of northern Alabama and Georgia under 2 feet of snow.
In December, a two-day storm that battered the Connecticut shoreline causedmore than $650 million in damage, but a wind shift during Saturday's blizzard kept tides low enough to prevent extensive shoreline flooding.
By 7 p.m. Saturday, strong gusting winds had caused power failures affecting 30,000 customers, but Northeast Utilities officials said electricitywas expected to be restored to all by midnight Sunday. State police reported 145 motor vehicle accidents between 6 a.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Only 15involved injuries and none was fatal.
Connecticut was well prepared for the storm, and Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.said Sunday the low number of accidents was an "extraordinary example of the public being part of the solution."
The governor declared a state of emergency Saturday morning as snow began blowing through the state and issued a plea for people to stay in their homes.The emergency declaration was lifted at 7 p.m. Sunday, though Weicker continued to warn of icy conditions and drifting snow on highways.
Both storm-related fatalities happened Saturday during the height of the storm.
One man died Saturday in Wallingford when his snowmobile went off the road and hit a utility pole. The man, who had not been positively identified, was pronounced dead at Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Meriden. The other man,84-year-old Joseph Ulman
of Bethany, was found in snow in his driveway. Authorities said he may havesuffered a heart attack while shoveling.
In shoreline towns this weekend, people who had braced for the worst after being battered by the December storm got a lucky break when a wind shift at Sunday morning's high tide precluded coastal flooding.
Officials in Milford, Fairfield, Stratford and Stonington reported minor flooding early Sunday, but there were no reports of serious property damage.
The storm was of "a completely different nature" than the Dec. 11 storm, which damaged more than 2,000 homes, most along the coast, said Marilyn Lincoln, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross of Greater Hartford.
Fire and police officials in most shoreline communities advised residents along the waterfront to evacuate early in the day Saturday, well before high tide, which hit between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Sunday. In Fairfield, officials evacuated more than 150 homes, fire Capt. William Schumann said. He said about25 people spent the night in a Red Cross emergency shelter.
"We fared pretty well," Schumann said, explaining that a wind shift at hightide "laid the [Long Island] Sound right down. It wasn't anything like those tidal surges in December," when six houses in Fairfield were substantially damaged.
Among those who fared well in the weekend blizzard were snowplowers and towtruck operators. State and local police departments reported hundreds of abandoned cars were towed.
In Hartford, 267 cars were towed. In New Britain, more than 140 car owners who failed to move their cars off city streets before plows arrived were lining up Sunday at the police department to bail their vehicles out of the impoundment lot.
In Southington, drivers had been lining up all weekend at Bradley Memorial Hospital, offering rides in four-wheel-drive vehicles to nurses, doctors and other staff who were snowbound, but had to get to or from work.
"This has been very rewarding. Everybody has pulled together," said Patricia Caruso, the weekend nursing supervisor who helped coordinate the volunteer effort.
Manchester mechanic Alan MacFarlane and his son Scott were out making moneySunday trying to dig people out of the snow. But they broke two plows, two shovels and one snowblower.
"The stuff is very heavy and very hard to move with the light snow and the sleet on top of it," said Alan MacFarlane, who owns Mac's Auto Repair in Manchester and was using a four-wheel-drive truck with a plow attached. "Twicewe had to weld [the plow] back on."
Police said traffic was light Sunday, but some shoppers ventured out to theWestfarms, Enfield Square and Buckland Hills malls, all of which were closed except for a few individual stores at Westfarms and Buckland Hills. At Westfarms, Filene's and Lord & Taylor were open; Filene's was open for most ofthe afternoon at Buckland Hills, and the Sears store there opened for about 1 1/2 hours. But stir-crazy shoppers appeared eager to get out of their houses.
"I'm watching one car after another drive through," said Tom Guerra, general manager at Buckland Hills. "The phone has rung off the hook since fiveo'clock this morning."
At Westfarms, Dianne Noth, the mall's general manager, said she
closed because "we observed the governor's plea to stay off the roads."
All three malls were expected to reopen this morning at the usual hour of 10 a.m.
The Whalers were scheduled to play the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday at the Hartford Civil Center at 1:40 p.m., but the game was postponed. A game againstthe Buffalo Sabres Saturday afternoon was played as scheduled before only 1,362 fans. National Hockey League rules required that the game go on because the Sabres were in town before the storm hit.
Staff Writers Lisa Chedekel, Liz Halloran, Laura Ungar, Ellen Nakashima, and Van-Alden Ferguson contributed to this story.