October 29, 2011
I remember hanging out with my buddy Tom up in Greenfield in the late morning before this storm blew in. I couldn’t believe how cold it was for late October. I believe it was in the upper 20s or low 30s. Either way, it just below freezing. It FELT like snow was on the way, smelled like snow was on the way, and indeed it was.
Abnormally cold air had advected (i.e. had been transported) into New England from Canada the night before, which set the stage for the abnormally cold aspect to this late October system. Secondarily, a strong low moved from Louisiana (tapping Gulf moisture) and then hopped over to the Carolina coast (tapping Atlantic moisture) and then came up the east coast, passing to the southeast of Nantucket, and hurling very heavy snows all the way back into Western Massachusetts.
At the time, I was living in Haydenville MA, and I remember clearly as it first started snowing. I had finished stacking some wood just as the first few flakes started to fly. I quickly pulled in several armfuls of wood to stoke the fire, fully expecting the power to go out at night. There was no question. This was going to be a heavy wet snow in the valley. We WOULD lose power, period.
Soon after, the snow filled in very quickly. There were lots of smaller flakes completely filling the air, which is a telltale sign of a juiced-up storm that is going to dump lots of snow. Within a half hour the ground was dusted, and within a few hours, there were at least four to five inches on the ground, and you could hear large tree branches and limbs cracking under the weight of the snow off in the forest across the street. It was eerie, to say the least. One after another, you could hear big branches going down. After all, it was still the middle of Autumn. ALL THE COLORED FOLIAGE WAS STILL ON THE TREES. These acted as big mits to catch all the heavy wet snow, which clung to everything. To this day, I can tell when I see certain broken limb patterns on a tree that it’s from THAT storm, and no other. A weather nut knows 🙂
Given how everything was transpiring, I knew that I was witnessing an historic storm. I cooked a lot of food, fully expecting power to be out for several days (it turned out it was only 41 hours for me, some places were out for more than two weeks!). I had a good supply of water, lanterns for light, my wood stove for heat, and plenty of books to read, and my acoustic guitar. I was fully prepared for this storm.
Luckily, it was October, so the cold didn’t stay for long, and it warmed up into the 40s to low 50s during the day, but was chilly at night. I was very fortunate to have wood heat, and feel strongly that everyone should have a source of wood heat in case of emergencies. This was a perfect example.
Later that night, I remember a large blue flash of light, and heard the transformer blow, and out the power went. IT WAS SO QUIET. I loved it. I read by lantern, played acoustic guitar, it was a simple life. Peaceful. No electric hum. When dark settled in, it was soon time to go to bed, maybe around 8pm.
The next day I woke up, and I measured a solid foot of heavy wet snow in the valley. First of all, it’s very hard to get a foot of POWDERY DRY SNOW in the valley floor in the core of Winter. Secondly, it’s even harder for a foot of wet snow to accumulate. But this was a foot of heavy wet snow in OCTOBER. Unheard of. Beyond rare.
The only thing that I can relate to it, is when I was a kid in Eastern MA and we had the May 1979 snowstorm where we got 10 inches of snow, and all the leaves were out in the Spring. I’ll never forget that.
As a result of the Halloween Nor’easter of 2011, the Western Mass hilltowns got upwards of 32” of snow (Peru, MA clocked this jackpot snow total), and because they were higher in elevation, and a little further away from the storm, it was a powdery snow, and they didn’t lose power!!! Usually they lose power, while the valley keeps it, but in this case it was the other way around. My landlord in Cummington had 27” and didn’t even have to turn his generator on!
Lowest Barometric Pressure
971 millibars/28.7 inches
Highest Snowfall Recorded
32 inches, Peru MA
Highest Measured Wind Speed
69mph in Massachusetts
Number of power outages