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Joke's on New England with April Fools' snowstorm

By David Sharp
Associated Press / April 1, 2011

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PORTLAND, Maine—An April Fools' snowstorm created a winter wonderland Friday in parts of northern New England, sending dozens of cars sliding off roads, knocking out power to thousands and giving tens of thousands of schoolchildren a surprise snow day.

The spring Nor'easter greeted folks on April Fools' Day with thick, wet snow that covered the pavement and stuck to trees, which drooped under the weight.

Falling tree limbs knocked out electricity for more than 60,000 homes and businesses in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island at the storm's peak. In Maine, utility crews planned to work through the night to restore power.

Highways were treacherous during the morning commute, and state police reported that dozens of cars slid off the slippery roads.

Brunswick Naval Air Station spokesman John Ripley gave himself permission to work from home after an aborted attempt to drive to work on I-295.

"It was pretty dicey, to say the least," said Ripley, of Portland, who saw four vehicles off the highway and watched a fifth fishtail before turning back.

In Maine, the coastal town of Hope and the town New Sharon, 60 miles inland, both saw a foot of snow, and many locations approached that amount. But Portland saw only a half-foot of snow, far below the city's record of 11.1 inches for an April Fools' storm in 1922.

Elsewhere, the storm failed to live up to its billing.

In Massachusetts, Fitchburg got 8.1 inches and Boylston saw 7.7 inches, and the numbers tapered to the south. Eastern New York and western Massachusetts saw only a couple of inches of snowfall, far less than originally forecast.

Power outages were the biggest problem in Maine and New Hampshire.

About 25,000 homes and businesses in southern Maine and another 20,000 in southern New Hampshire were in the dark at the storm's peak, officials said. By early evening, more than 10,000 customer accounts were still without electricity in Maine, officials said.

In Portland, Pete Johnson was caught by surprise by the intensity of the storm Friday morning. He didn't believe the weather forecasters, especially after a relatively snow-free March. So, he took off his snow tires.

He said he should've known better.

"If you've done this long enough, you know it's going to snow again," he said, grabbing a cup of coffee before making a slippery drive to Boston for a business meeting.

In Concord, N.H., the parks and recreation department was boasting a week ago about getting its tennis courts ready for spring. On Friday, it switched gears, challenging followers of its Facebook page to submit pictures of snowmen in the parks.

"Old man winter is not giving up without a fight this year," department director David Gill said Friday.

Skiers like John Olif, 23, of Killington, Vt., were thrilled to have more new fallen snow on their local ski mountains.

"Last year at this time, everything was melting. But it's mid-February out here pretty much. It's definitely a treat," he said. "It's 100 percent open and it's April 1. It's a powder day on April Fools', not a joke or anything."

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Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., and John Curran in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this story.