A nor'easter packing high winds, soaking rain and springtime snow churned up the Northeast on Monday, unleashing a burst of winter, closing some schools and sparking worries about power outages in communities that were basking in record warmth a month ago.
The earliest hits were on higher ground, where snow-laden tree limbs pulled down power lines and commuters navigated slushy roads to work and school. Up to a foot of snow or more was forecast for higher elevations.
"It's going to be a bad one. Limbs are breaking everywhere," said Mark Shaffer, who works at Laurel Valley Hardware in Stahlstown, about 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Shaffer said power at the store went out about 8:30 a.m., even though there was just 4 inches of snow on the ground.
Rain in the Buffalo area changed over to snow about 9 a.m. Monday with 5 to 9 inches expected through 7 a.m. Tuesday. Up to 16 inches are possible in higher elevations south of the city. Up to 12 inches of snow was expected in the higher elevations of central and western Pennsylvania. In northeastern Ohio, 3 to 7 inches of snow was forecast.
George Wallach, of Buffalo, said he'd gone to Home Depot for lawn fertilizer last week — never thinking he might need rock salt. Buffalo saw a run of record-heat in March that included a St. Patrick's Day weekend in the 70s and an 82-degree reading March 22.
"I should learn not to plan anything till after May," he said while waiting with parents outside a Buffalo elementary school to retrieve children after a half day that was scheduled in advance.
Some schools in western Pennsylvania were closed Monday morning ahead of the storm. Districts in the state's Allegheny Mountains began announcing closings Sunday night.
Buffalo-based weather service meteorologist Sean Smith said the slow-moving storm could linger before moving out sometime Tuesday. Sustained winds of 20-30 mph were predicted throughout the Northeast, and gusts of up to 50 mph were expected off Cape Cod.
The snow postponed minor league baseball in Batavia, where the Empire State Yankees and Norfolk Tides were supposed to play.
"The field is completely covered in snow, and there's no way to get it all off," Travis Sick said from Dwyer Stadium, where the snow continued to come down.
Finger Lakes Racetrack called off its thoroughbred racing card as heavy wet snow blanketed the central New York track, and the gray skies and snow forced the University at Buffalo's dedication of a new solar panel installation indoors.
The weather was suspected in the rollover of a truck in the Chautauqua County town of Westfield. It was unknown if there were any injuries.
In Cortland and Yates counties in central New York, authorities said roads were snow-covered and slippery, and they urged drivers not to head out unless absolutely necessary. Dozens of schools in central and western New York were delayed or closed. The snow and slippery roads stretched into the Adirondacks, which got about 2 inches of slushy accumulation.
National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Wood said six inches of snow fell by daybreak Monday in the higher terrain of Tug Hill, just southeast of Watertown. The snow was expected to change to rain later Monday.
Utilities reported about 25,000 customers without power in central and western New York by midmorning Monday. About 25,000 customers over 31 counties were without power in Pennsylvania, said Scott Surgeoner, a Penelec spokesman based in Reading, Pa.
Amy Shaulis, a waitress at the Summit Diner in Somerset, Pa., wondered if the storm was a bit of payback.
"We had a very, very light winter, we had summer in the middle of winter and now we're paying for it," she said.