Eyewitnesses to Snowstorm Nemo's Wrath

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Not everybody was enamored with the buildup surrounding “Nor’easter Nemo.” The designation, after all, was unofficial, bestowed by the Weather Channel and not by the National Weather Service, which saves such nomenclatures for the likes of hurricanes. And this was hardly expected to be — thankfully — Sandy-scale devastation. It was going to be — well, snow.

But the forecast was for as much as three feet of snow in one dump, and by any standards, that was a lot. Weather experts cautioned that, particularly for anyone who was out traveling, the storm had the potential to be very dangerous. And indeed, Portland, Maine, received its all-time record daily snowfall. Other towns in the Northeast experienced similar extremes, and President Obama declared a federal emergency in Connecticut.

PICTURES: Blizzard Nemo Slams Into U.S. East Coast

In anticipation of how it might all pan out, I asked some friends at various locations throughout the storm’s projected path to make brief diary entries over the course of Friday and Saturday as Nemo arrived and ebbed. For some, the commission was more difficult than others, notably where the storm knocked out power — or, candidly, where it underwhelmed. Massachusetts took a much bigger hit than Vermont, and in New York, it barely registered. But each of my correspondents rose to the challenge in his or her unique way.

The contributors are: in Manhattan and in Astoria, Queens, New York: Steve Marzolf, online editor at HBO.com; in Milton, Massachusetts: Lisa White, director of guidebooks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (and editor of my most recent book); in Woodstock, Vermont, Sallie Schullinger-Krause, a longtime friend and former fellow traveler to remote Arctic villages, and her husband David; and in Barnstable, Massachusetts, on lovely Cape Cod, Patrick Ramage, director of the Global Whale Program for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Many thanks to them all.

And so we present, 48 hours (or so) in the life of a snowstorm:

Friday 6:00 am, Lisa in Milton, MA: School has been cancelled. Governor Deval Patrick requests everyone off the roads by noon today. Family is up, awaiting the first flake amid the anticipation: are we really going to get 2 feet or will it be a dusting? We want enough to go sledding, but we’ve seen enough busted forecasts to be skeptical.

Friday, 10.00 am, Steve in Manhattan, NY: So far, the dreaded Nemo is looking a lot like most other NYC ‘snow storms’ … It’s just a rainy, sloppy mess.

Friday, 11.30 am, Sallie in Woodstock, VT:  Woke up today to sideways snow, and about three inches on the ground. Exactly as predicted by VPR and our reliable friends at the Fairbanks Museum Observatory in St. Johnsbury. Tapered off mid-morning for a short period and has now picked up again. Went out briefly to pick up the mail, buy kitty litter, and a few groceries. All local errands. Not many people out; what cars were on the road were being driven cautiously. Listening to NPR on the way home, it appears that Hartford, Boston and Providence will bear the brunt of the storm.

STORMTRACKER: Where’s Nemo Now?

Friday 4:00 pm, Lisa in Milton, MA: About 3 inches of snow on the ground, and it’s coming down fast. Cake Boss Mini-Me (son #2) has decorated a chocolate fudge cake. If the Chocolate Auction at church on Sunday is cancelled, we’ll just have to eat it ourselves.

Friday, 4.00 pm, Sallie in Woodstock, VT: After a brief lull earlier in the afternoon, it continues to snow. Class is cancelled for tonight and tomorrow morning. Despite earlier skepticism I’m just as happy not to have to go out tonight. Instead there’s laundry to do, a game of chess with Dave, and soup with my parents later this evening. And one very attentive, lap-seeking little black cat.

Friday, 5.00 pm, Steve in Astoria, Queens, NY: Sometime between grabbing a sandwich at 2 pm and leaving my office a few hours later (Hey, Mayor Bloomberg TOLD us to go home …) Nemo went from light sleet to medium-gauge-mushy-snowflake mode. From my apartment in Astoria, you can barely make out the RFK Bridge a few blocks away.

Friday, 5.00 pm, David in Woodstock, VT: Five o’clock and the dying daylight is showing us a heavy snow slanting slightly as it falls heavily and blankets Woodstock.  We hear on the radio that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has decreed that cannibalism is still illegal in his state, even if the roads leading to Trader Joe’s are impassable.  We have around four inches of white stuff now, and I wish I had bought those skis at LL Bean yesterday.  This is terrible!

Friday, 5.30 pm, Steve in Astoria, Queens, NY: It’s really quiet around here now:

Friday 7:00 pm, Lisa in Milton, MA: Wind is roaring. Dog scratches at door to go out. Goes about 1 foot, turns around, and comes right back in.

ANALYSIS: What’s a Nor’easter?

Friday 9.00 pm, Sallie in Woodstock, VT:  We’ve returned home from dinner with my parents, four houses down the street. Before we left, Dad asked if we wanted to take water with us, “just in case”. He also offered us matches and a bagel. Dave said if he managed to get lost on the way home he’d have to resign from the search and rescue team. I said that if Amundsen could trek 700 miles to the South Pole I could certainly make it 500 yards to our house. Dad said that I was a girl and this storm was different. Regardless of the aspersions cast on my character and gender, Dave and I bundled up and headed out into the glittering snow. For one brief and exciting moment we both thought we heard coyotes in the park but it turned out to be children playing. Now hunkering down for the night, with the prospect of good skiing tomorrow!

Friday 10:00 pm, Lisa in Milton, MA: Dog goes out and sinks completely into the snow. This might be more dramatic if she were a Great Dane; she’s a Boston Terrier (a diminutive one at that), but there really is about a foot of snow out there.

Saturday 6:30 am, Lisa in Milton, MA: We still have power—yay! Apparently most of the town of Quincy, right next door, has lost power, so I feel grateful. Still windy, but not as wild as last night. Looks like a couple of feet of snow, though it’s hard to tell with all the drift. Boys are as excited as Christmas morning. They’ve done extensive research on snow fort techniques and are ready to get out there:

Saturday, 11.00 am, Steve in Astoria, Queens, NY: The sidewalks are already clear, but I’ve got about six inches of snow drifting on my balcony. The sun is out, and it looks like none of this is going to last long.

Saturday, 11.30 am, Sallie in Woodstock, VT:  The clouds are scurrying away, enough to bring sun beams into the living room for the cats to luxuriate in, blinking. A quick check-in with my cousins in Massachusetts revealed that it was still snowing, the driving ban was still in place and that they got a lot more snow than we did. I find myself a little downcast that we didn’t get more snow up here, that somehow we were cheated. Because heaven forbid that those states to the south should one-up us in Vermont, winter wise. Then I remember that come spring we’ll be able to say that we still have drifts in the front yard, next to the snow drops and the early crocus. My father will roll his eyes and complain that their house is the last house on Mountain Avenue to be clear of snow (this is true, actually). And come May I will be thinking longingly of the Farmer’s Market in Portland, Oregon, which will have been open for two months with all kinds of fresh, green vegetables while here we’ll still be waiting for the final frost to put in the seedlings. Looking out the window now, May is still a long way off.

Saturday, noon, Patrick in Barnstable, MA: No power in our house or village since late last night. Temps dropping inside and out. Georgann made a yummy bacon, egg and pancake breakfast. We’ve left the gas stove burners on to keep warm in the kitchen. Early morning adrenalin rush, extended by Starbucks Via (“it’s not freeze dried, it’s microground”), is giving way to jet-lag (I just returned from two weeks in Australia and Japan) and irritability. Perhaps a nap…

Saturday 4:15 pm, Lisa in Milton, MA: Just back from sledding. Being the first ones out, we had to forge the trail, so it was slow going at first. But eventually, the slope was packed down enough that the kids could get up some speed. Sun tried to come out, off and on. Snow has stopped. The travel ban that Gov. Patrick instituted yesterday was lifted at 4:00, but, despite 3 hours’ shoveling, we have a long way to go before we can get the car out of the driveway. (This is what we get for refusing to buy a snow blower. We’ll happily live with the consequences. Oh, and that chocolate auction did get postponed, so we’re having chocolate fudge cake for dessert tonight.)

Sunday 7.30 am, David in Woodstock, VT: All day Saturday we hunkered down inside by the gas fire, cats relieved that the weather was such that we weren’t going to have to eat them. I believe I owe my very life to whoever invented wool, without which I would certainly have perished on the way home from the in-laws last night. This morning has dawned bright and clear, the sun spattered all over the living room where the cats absorb it. Our drawer full of candles remains untouched.

Sunday, 8am, Patrick in Barnstable, MA: Fell asleep late after two back episodes of Homeland, wisely saved to my iPad last week. Nights candles are burnt out and jocund day two dawns bright white and chilly. Inside. Georgann gamely fighting a cold. Kids in a strikingly good mood. Isabelle, “I once was 11, but now I am 12 and understand most things” is shoveling a path to my Sunday New York Times, which has inexplicably appeared in a drift at the end of the driveway! Henry (18 and antsy) is shortly off to work at the Barnstable Market, if we can get him there. Holden Synar (14 and snoring) still down for a long winter’s nap. Life is good.

Photographs courtesy of Lisa White, except for empty train platform in NYC, by Steve Marzolf

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