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Halloween Nor'easter: How unusual was it?

Folks in the Northeast remember the Blizzard of '78 and the April Fool's Day Blizzard, which hit in '97. They'll be talking about the limb-snapping, electricity-killing Halloween Nor'easter for a long time, too.

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Weather lore in the Northeastern US is replete with memorable storms – the "Great Hurricane" of 1938, the Blizzard of '78, the April Fool's Day Blizzard of 1997.

To that list you can now add one of the most unusual storms on record – an event that, for now, we'll call the Halloween Nor'easter of '11, which hit Oct. 29 and 30.

"We haven't seen a storm that produced this much snow over such a large area in October," says Louis Uccellini, director of the National Centers for Atmospheric Prediction in Camp Springs, Md., and co-author of a two-volume history of snowstorms in the Northeast.

Comparable storms have appeared as early as late November and as late as early March. And the broad conditions nurturing the storm were typical of the Eastern seaboard's winter nor'easters, so named because the counterclockwise winds circulating around the center of the system come onshore out of the northeast as the storms travel up the coast.

But this late-October storm delivered 10 inches or more of snow from portions of West Virginia into Maine.

In its timing and intensity, "we're in uncharted territory with this storm," Dr. Uccellini says.

The weekend storm struck on the 20th anniversary – almost to the day – of "the Perfect Storm," a destructive Halloween-time nor'easter that blended a powerful mid-latitude storm system with the remnants of hurricane Grace.

This time around, the storm brought heavy, wet snow instead of heavy rains, powerful winds, and a destructive, long-lasting storm surge.

The Oct. 29-30 storm triggered blackouts comparable to those caused by Hurricane Irene's run up the East Coast at the end of August, in which 4 million customers lost power.


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