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1 death as potentially record snow hits

Some parts of Mass. could see a foot; 300,000 lose power

Syed Ovais (left) and Lee Quach bought shovels and ice-melting supplies in Danvers yesterday in anticipation of a snowstorm. Syed Ovais (left) and Lee Quach bought shovels and ice-melting supplies in Danvers yesterday in anticipation of a snowstorm. (John Blanding/Globe Staff)
By Travis Andersen and Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / October 30, 2011

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A potentially record-breaking nor’easter expected to dump as much as 2 feet of snow on parts of Massachusetts overnight took the life of a Springfield man and has caused hundreds of thousands of power outages.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency reported that 364,452 utility customers were without power across the state late Saturday, with Western and Central Massachusetts the hardest hit.

“Those counties are bearing the brunt of the storm,” said Scott MacLeod, an agency spokesman. “We fully expect power outages to rise” Sunday. He said that upwards of 2 feet of snow could fall on northern Berkshire County.

National Grid had 205,890 customers without power as of 11 p.m.

A man in his early 20s was killed in Springfield when he touched a guardrail that had been energized by a fallen electrical wire, according to a spokesman for the Springfield Fire Department.

Springfield police and fire units had blocked off all but one lane of traffic on Parker Street to make room for electric company workers to fix the downed wire, said spokesman Dennis Leger. The man, who was not identified, jumped out of his Jeep Cherokee and ran through the traffic, past the fire engine and police cruiser, toward the the wire on the side of the street.

“He just got out of the truck and went running,” Leger said.

As the officers watched, the man approached the guardrail.

“He did it so quick-- he just ran over and I guess he touched the guardrail and he got killed."

Leger said the man had no passengers in the Jeep. Because of the danger posed by the live wire, the officers waited until the power was turned off in the area to reach the body.

Heavy, wet snow falling on leaf-bearing trees caused trees and limbs to fall on lines around the state, said National Grid spokeswoman Jackie Barry.

She said crews were working to restore power as quickly as possible.

“We’ll keep at it until every customer has his or her power back,” she said.

NStar reported 25,000 customers without power at 10 p.m., most of them west of Boston. The company was bringing in extra line crews and support staff to help restore power, a spokeswoman said.

Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency Saturday night.

Boston was drenched by rain throughout the afternoon and evening, and by 11 p.m. it had turned to snow. The city and surrounding communities were expected to get up to 8 inches of snow before the storm stops in the early afternoon, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton.

Parts of Central and Western Massachusetts could get up to a foot of snow by Sunday afternoon, while as much as two feet could fall in sections of the western part of the state, the weather service said.

If those forecasts prove correct, the storm will set records.

The deepest October snow ever recorded in Boston was 1.1 inches on Oct. 29, 2005. The deepest October snowfall in Worcester was 7.5 inches on Oct. 10, 1979, according to the weather service.

The good news is that by the afternoon, skies should clear. Temperatures are forecast in the high 40s during the day for trick-or-treaters, but it could cloud up by evening, forecasters said.The storm swept through the mid-Atlantic region on its way toward New England, with eastern Pennsylvania serving as its bull’s-eye, the Associated Press reported. New York City’s Central Park set a record for both the date and the month of October with 1.3 inches of snow by midafternoon.

More than 2.3 million customers lost power from Maryland north through Massachusetts.

The storm put a damper on Halloween weekend festivities in Salem,cq the site of the infamous witch trials and a go-to spot for costumed revelers every year from around the country, as crowds thinned out through the soggy afternoon.

The 19th Annual Komen Massachusetts Race for the Cure, which raises money for breast cancer research and was scheduled for today in Boston, was canceled due to weather-related safety concerns.

“It’s really a disappointment,” said Ronni Cohen-Boyar, executive director of the group that organizes the race. “This will definitely impact out ability in terms of how we can help the residents of Massachusetts.”

At a late-afternoon press conference, Richard A. Davey, Department of Transportation secretary, said officials were ready to meet the challenge of the early-season storm.

“Mother Nature is tricky, October is certainly not a month we would expect this weather but we are prepared,” said Davey, speaking at the department’s facility in Weston.

He said crews had been working since Thursday to winterize heavy equipment including front-end loaders, which only days ago were making road repairs, such as potholes.

Snow blades were added to trucks piled high with salt, yesterday. The state has about 250,000 tons of salt stored in 150 transportation department facilities across the state that were ready to treat roads last night, he said.

“Our teams have been working to get these vehicles in shape for snow fighting, which they are,” he said.

He said the governor was concerned about the potential for downed trees and power lines from what is expected to be a heavy wet snow, and that residents should not touch downed power lines but alert police and their utilities if they see them.

He said the transportation department has a $50 million budget for ice and snow removal this fiscal year, and officials don’t usually tap into it until late November. But he said yesterday, “as usual, safety first.”

State Police spokesman David Procopio said snow and icy conditions caused spinouts on roads in Central and Western Massachusetts yesterday, but no serious injuries.

He said that on Route 202 in New Salem in the central part of the state, icy conditions caused about 100 vehicles to become stuck on the road, which had become impassable by last night between New Salem and Belchertown.

Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said MEMA opened an emergency operations center in Framingham last night to coordinate efforts among several agencies to address storm-related issues, especially the power outages.Davey said the MBTA was running on schedule yesterday, and officials will monitor power lines which could disrupt service, particularly on the Green and Blue lines.

In a statement, the Massachusetts Port Authority, the agency that runs Logan International Airport, said there were flight cancellations and crews were working last night to remove snow from runways, taxiways, and airport roadways.

Massport was urging passengers to check the status of flights before heading to Logan.Peter Pan Bus Lines suspended its service in Western Massachusetts yesterday afternoon, as well as its Saturday Night Owl runs to Foxwoods Casino, the company said on its website. Service is expected to resume today, according to the site.

Meanwhile shoppers at the crowded Home Depot in Waltham were gearing up for the snow yesterday, purchasing shovels, rock salt, and other useful items.

Stephen Haynes, store operations manager, said the store would not run out of essential items.

“Shovels, salt, sand. We have plenty of storm-related inventory,” he said. “We thought we might even get sleds, but those didn’t come in.”

The city of Worcester opened an emergency operations center last night to deal with storm-related issues.

City Manager Michael O’Brien said officials will focus on responding to power outages and clearing the streets of debris to ensure that routes to hospitals and other vital locations are clear.

“We are battle-hardened and seasoned here in Worcester for whatever Mother Nature can throw at us,” he said.

Brian R. Ballou of the Globe Staff and Globe correspondents Christopher Girard, Taylor M. Miles, Martha Shanahan, and Justin Rice contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.