FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. ? The earliest "winter" storm in decades startled Fairfield County residents early Saturday afternoon with snow, ice and wind that downed trees and power lines and resulted in power outages and car crashes across the area.
Just two months after Tropical Storm Irene left more than 1 million people in Connecticut without power, the pre-Halloween mix of wintery weather was described by the National Weather Service as "a historic early season snowstorm for the tri-state region."
The storm is expected to dump up to a foot of snow in some parts of the county.
Originally predicted to be snow only north of the Merritt Parkway, the storm was battering towns along the coast with snow, ice and slush.
The Weather Service issued a bulletin at 2:21 p.m. upgrading its weather advisory for Southern Fairfield County to a winter storm warning for heavy snow and wind. The warning is in effect until 6 a.m. Sunday and calls for 8 to 12 inches of snow and wind gusts up to 50 mph. Heavy snow will continue through the evening and taper off from west to east late Saturday night.
By 5:30 p.m., Connecticut Light & Power was reporting nearly 288,000 customers in the dark statewide, about a quarter of its customers. Outages included 3,687 customers in Darien, or 46 percent of the town; 4,094, or 14 percent in Greenwich; 2,986 in New Canaan, or 35 percent; 5,488 in Norwalk, or 18 percent; 4,451 in Stamford, or 8 percent; 2,869 in Weston, or 75 percent; 3,085 in Westport, or 32 percent; and 4,079 in Wilton, or 55 percent.
More than 12,000 United Illuminating customers were also without power. In Easton, 607 customers, or 21 percent, were in the dark, as well as 931 in Fairfield, or 4 percent.
"We've got heavy snow falling on the trees and power lines, and it's knocking out power all over town," said a Weston policewoman. "The roads are also extremely hazardous."
Police throughout Fairfield County were advising motorists to stay off of the roads. But in Fairfield and Westport, some drivers said they couldn't avoid being out on the roads.
"I really can't believe how hard it's snowing, and it isn't even Halloween yet," said Kristina Buddenhagen of Fairfield as she brushed snow off her 1997 green Saturn outside Fairfield Town Hall on Saturday afternoon.
Buddenhagen, 30, a lifelong Fairfield resident, explained she was picking up a friend working in the registrar of voters office and said she couldn't remember the last time it snowed before Halloween.
"I think I was a little girl, about my son's age," she said, pointing to 4-year-old Anthony sitting in the back seat.
"Christmas is here!" said Anthony excitedly, playfully pointing to the heavy snowflakes falling on the window.
And it looked more like Christmas than Halloween, right down the road at the Enchanted Castle on Old Post Road, the town's annual 10-Day "Magical Halloween Experience" at the Burr Homestead.
"We've been doing this for 18 years and there's never been even a hint of snow during the period we're open," said Shaun Amberg, co-chair of the Auxiliary of Ahlbin Centers for Rehabilitation Medicine at Bridgeport Hospital, which sponsors the event, which includes some favorite children's characters dressed in costume.
"It's kind of charming, but ask me if I feel the same way later when I have to clear off my car," Amberg said.
Some people were already fed up with the storm by early afternoon. "It was almost 70 degrees just the other day, I don't believe what I'm seeing," said Albert Weinberg, scraping ice and snow off his car on Main Street in Westport.
"I'm a snow-bird and always head to Florida in December before there's any chance of snow," Weinberg said. "But this is nuts. I'm ready to leave tonight."
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