Winter took a hard swing at New England on Saturday as a nor’easter brought rapid, wet snowfalls that dropped as much as a foot of snow in Central Massachusetts, several inches of rain on Cape Cod, and high winds that left thousands without power.
Residents woke up to steady rain Saturday, but falling temperatures throughout the day changed the rain to snow that fell at a rate of about 1 to 2 inches per hour in the afternoon for much of the state, forecasters said.
[430 AM] A rapidly intensifying storm system will produce gusty winds & heavy rain, changing to a period of heavy, wet #snow this afternoon into evening. Snowfall rates could reach 1-2 inches per hour, leading to difficult travel and possible power outages. #MAwx #RIwx #CTwx pic.twitter.com/9z3tDOrEDe— NWS Boston (@NWSBoston) December 5, 2020
Because the snow was wet and heavy, power outages began spreading in the afternoon, especially in Central Massachusetts. More than 7,000 customers were without power as of early Sunday morning, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
In Boston, rain changed over to snow at about 4 p.m. By Saturday evening, the precipitation had returned to a mix of light rain and sleet, as temperatures hovered in the mid-30s across much of Eastern Massachusetts, according to weather service meteorologist Kristie Smith.
Only .3 inches of snow was reported at Logan International Airport, she said.
A winter storm warning was in effect until 1 p.m. Sunday, according to the weather service.
Heavy snow began falling by about 12:30 p.m. in Central Massachusetts, where the storm packed the hardest punch, the weather service said.
There were 9½ inches of snow reported at Worcester Regional Airport around 6 p.m., Smith said, and 12½ inches reported in nearby Paxton.
“Worcester County was certainly our hot spot for this storm, which we were expecting,” Smith said.
State Police imposed a speed restriction of 40 miles per hour for a large stretch of the Massachusetts Turnpike from Newton to Westfield after “numerous crashes” in the central part of the state Saturday morning.
The storm brought “a lot of rain, but no snow” to Cape Cod, Smith said, as well as winds that gusted up to 56 miles per hour in Provincetown and Hyannis and 51 miles per hour in Orleans. Plymouth also reported gusts as high as 56 miles per hour, Smith said.
Much of the Cape saw 2 inches or more of rain. Hyannis reported 2.65 inches, East Harwich reported 2.76 inches, and in Bourne, 3.12 inches were reported, according to weather service meteorologist Bryce Williams.
The heaviest rain in the state was on Martha’s Vineyard, where 3.68 inches of rain were reported in Chilmark.
Saturday’s storm marked the state’s second snowfall of the season, as Worcester had just over half a foot of snow right before Halloween, which also knocked out power to thousands.
Williams said Saturday’s snow accumulated despite relatively warm temperatures because of how much precipitation the nor’easter was generating.
“The storm itself is so powerful that it will help cool the column of the atmosphere itself,” he said. In other words, the rapid snowfall chilled the air enough for snow to build up, even though temperatures were right at or above the freezing mark.
The heavy snow brought down trees and branches around the state, including in Holden and Lunenburg, according to the weather service.
MassDOT, the state transportation agency, said it had deployed 763 pieces of equipment throughout the state to respond to the storm, and it advised drivers to stay home.
While a switch from rain to snow was bad for driving conditions, it helped generate foot traffic at Forge Baking Company in Somerville, according to the manager there.
“The rain made sales go way down and now that it’s snowing, we’re selling a lot of hot chocolates, chai teas — even cappuccinos,” said Jane Berry. “I think people more willing to walk in the snow than the rain.”
But it was a different story at a Christmas tree farm in West Boylston, in the band where the heaviest snow was expected to fall.
“Mean, mean, mean,” said Sighle Philbin, owner of French Hill Farm, describing the storm Saturday afternoon. “Wind’s howling, snow’s flying.”
The early snow may put some in a holiday mood, but it brought less cheer to the tree seller.
“It can shut you down,” said Philbin, who has owned the farm since 1985. “Think about it: If you have to go out and get a 10-foot tree [and] snow’s a foot and half deep, do you really think you’ll shovel it out and pull it in here?”
The farm had pandemic-induced business early in the selling season, but Saturday’s heavy snow kept it closed and its tree branches weighted down.
“You can’t go out and broom off every tree,” she said. “It all sounds good — ‘winter wonderland’ — but it’s not that easy.”
Lucas Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.