Looking Back At The October Snowstorm Of 2011


By Greg Machos
June 13, 2013

Only two months removed from a deluge of rainfall that brought 15 inches of rain in South Plainfield, and up to 20 inches in other parts of New Jersey including the coup de grace in Hurricane Irene, the Garden State was on the receiving end of the other side of the weather pendulum when a rare October snowstorm developed two days before Halloween.

In Northwestern Middlesex County, there was only about 4 inches of slushy snow that fell from the powerful nor'easter, but it still managed to create a lot of havoc in town. The heavy wet snow and ice caused tree limbs and wires to go down, which knocked out power to the northern section of South Plainfield for nearly 24 hours. Traffic lights were out at the intersection of Lowden, Sampton, and Plainfield Avenues as well as those at the intersection of Maple and Plainfield Avenue.

As a result of the power outage, there was no heat in the house, which caused the indoor temperature to drop to 61 degrees. I had to wear a hat and several layers of clothing as well as sleep with several blankets covering me. Nearby in Edison and Woodbridge, there was about the same amount of snow with 4 and 5 inches respectively. Further north and west in Morris, Sussex, Warren, Passaic, and Bergen counties, snowfall amounts were much higher. West Milford, in Passaic county, received 19 inches. Marcella received 15.5 inches.

Up in New England, the town of Plainfield in Western Massachusetts was the grand winner with 28 inches of snow. Portions of Connecticut received upwards of 20 inches of snow. New York saw measurable snow in October for only the fourth time since the Civil War and the first time since 1952. Prior to this snowfall, the earliest snow that I could remember was during Thanksgiving Weekend in November 1989. The snowfall from that storm measured 6 inches, and it came after a couple of severe weather outbreaks in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic earlier that month.

The lowest pressure during the storm here in South Plainfield was only 29.83 inches, or 1010 millibars, pressure equivalent to a very weak tropical depression. However, the storm had plenty of moisture with it. Down along the Jersey Shore, there were rainfall amounts ranging between an inch and two inches. Using the typical 10 inches of snow per every inch of rain, those amounts could have translated into 10 to 20 inches of snow if the temperatures along the coast were cold enough.

The storm caused some problems in terms of the forecast where there was some disagreement between the Upton, New York and Mount Holly, New Jersey forecast offices. The conflict led to some confusion, especially in places such as South Plainfield, which lay on the northern fringe of the Mount Holly forecast area, some 5 minutes from Union County, which is covered by the Upton office. The Long Island based office called for areas to get up to 10 inches of snow while Mount Holly called for just about 5. While Plainfield in Union County was under a Winter Storm Warning, South Plainfield, located just minutes away in Middlesex County, was under a Winter Weather Advisory.

Things would change through as the snow really kicked in about 11:00 AM EDT. Heavy snow began falling throughout the Central Jersey region including Raritan Center in Edison, where I worked. I managed to get out and shoot some video footage of the snowfall. You could see the trees, which still had a lot of leaves on them, give in to the weight of the heavy snow. Places in South Plainfield began to lose power around 1:30 PM EDT. Power companies were another source of confusion and frustration during and after the storm. Still reeling from the hard hit dealt by Hurricane Irene at the end of August, JCP & L and PSE&G were under the gun, and didn't respond to well to the situation.

Places in Morris County were without power for weeks, which left many customers there irate with their utilities. Things wouldn't get better for the utilities over the next year when Hurricane Sandy would strike almost a year to the day later, and cause wind damage that left millions across the Garden State in the dark. The storm was just one in a series of weather events over a two year span that had the heads of weather forecasters and climatologists spinning, and asking if these storms were signs of the effects of global warming.


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