All things considered, it could have been worse.
The record-setting snowstorm that rumbled into Connecticut Monday choked roads, stranded travelers at airports and closed malls, forcing many stores to cancel their Presidents' Day sales.
But Monday's light holiday traffic blunted the storm's potential for widespread chaos.
Despite hundreds of fender benders, and as many as 28 storm-related deaths in other states, no fatalities were reported in Connecticut; and the dearth of tractor-trailers and commuter traffic helped keep the state's roads passable.
``We lucked out in terms of the timing of the storm, with the holiday today,'' Gov. John G. Rowland said Monday afternoon.
Rowland opened the state's Emergency Operations Center at 1 p.m. Monday in the State Armory in Hartford, but did not declare a state of emergency, as officials in some other states did.
Parts of the state along the shoreline achieved blizzard conditions, defined as heavy snowfall that reduces visibility to one-quarter mile or less, combined with extreme cold and winds of 35 mph or more, sustained for three hours.
The storm was forecast to peak overnight in blizzard conditions before winding down around noon today. Weather forecasters said final snowfall totals would exceed 2 feet in some parts of Connecticut -- ranking it among the worst storms in state history.
``We're looking at copious amounts of snow. Bunches and bunches,'' said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. ``It's one of the better storms we've had at least in the past two years.''
Rowland was optimistic that today the storm will move out of the area and Connecticut residents will be able to get back to business as usual.
``I would just encourage everyone to go to work,'' he said, adding that state departments are expected to be open as usual. ``The highways should be very clear hopefully by first thing [this] morning.''
Road conditions statewide were treacherous Monday as snow coated the pavement almost as quickly as plows could push it out of the way. More than 100 stuck or disabled vehicles had been towed off state highways by 3 p.m.
``We've had lots of calls for service today: Cars spun into snowdrifts, dead batteries, alternator problems,'' said Silbina Hilario of Newtown-based Hilario's Service Garage, which routinely responds to disabled vehicles on nearby I-84.
Monday's storm was the first large test of the state Department of Transportation's resources since Jan. 17, when 178 employees with snow and ice duties were laid off as part of state cost-cutting measures.
State officials have said the transportation department has 870 employees to operate approximately 650 pieces of equipment.
Rowland said Monday that he was aware of about 10 trucks that were not being driven because of personnel shortages. He said that is about the same number of trucks that are usually out of service for maintenance, so Monday's staffing and snowplowing was about equal to that of previous storms.
``There's been no diminishing effect from the layoffs,'' Rowland said.
Union workers did not agree.
Under their contract, the snowplow operators must receive a three-hour rest break after 17 hours on the job, at which time other workers step in on a rotation basis.
With fewer drivers available, union representatives said, the state had snowplows sitting idle by midday Monday because there were not enough people to operate the machinery when the rotating breaks started.
``There's just not enough bodies,'' said Steven Perruccio, president of the Connecticut Employees Union Independent Local 511. ``It was a nightmare waiting to happen, and now it's coming true.''
Like the state, municipalities struggled to keep their streets clear.
In Hartford, today's trash collection has been canceled so 15 sanitation trucks can be outfitted to join 25 other heavy trucks in plowing. Eighteen or 20 trucks from private contractors were also asked to report at midnight and work through the night, with each truck costing the city a minimum of $1,000.
The city imposed a parking ban at 6 p.m. Sunday, but compliance was spotty in neighborhoods where residents have no off-street parking. Similar parking bans were enacted in municipalities statewide, and are expected to continue today as crews clean the storm's remains.
In Danbury, for example, the city's automated telephone system called residents with a recorded message reminding them to move their vehicles and offering tips on city-owned lots that could be used.
At Bradley International Airport, the storm cut the normal number of daily flights in half Monday.
The airport closed shortly before 1 p.m. as wind gusts of up to 25 mph were whipping snow horizontally across the airfield and the temperature was 17 degrees.
Officials said a few flights are expected to resume this morning, but people are being urged to check with their airlines before venturing to Windsor Locks.
``Even if we open at 6 a.m., it's going to be far from a normal day,'' said Bradley operations specialist Mike Ross. ``It could be several days before we get back to anything close to normal.''
Disappointed travelers said Monday's cancellations cut into vacations timed for the public schools' February break.
``There's nothing available anywhere,'' said Kimberly Johnson of Branford, who had hoped to catch a morning flight to join five friends already soaking up sun in the Virgin Islands. ``I was even willing to take a bus to D.C. and go from there, but no way.''
Doug Robbins of Millbury, Mass., was bound for Naples, Fla., with his wife and two daughters. But their flight to Fort Myers was canceled, and US Airways said a Wednesday flight to Miami was the best replacement available.
``That would mean a five-hour drive,'' Robbins said. ``We made a pact today. We're going to take what comes and just roll with the punches.''
On Connecticut's highways, some tractor-trailers braved the roads, but many parked in rest areas or company parking lots to wait out the storm. Rowland, who banned trucks from the highways during a large storm in March 2001, said there was no need for a repeat this year.
Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said many truckers decided the risk was too much.
People who avoided driving and tried to get around Greater Hartford on mass transit found a rough ride, as bus and train services were curtailed while the storm gained strength Monday afternoon.
Amtrak canceled many of its trips along the East Coast, while Metro-North Railroad eliminated some of its commuter trains.
CT Transit buses ran as scheduled throughout the morning and early afternoon, despite some weather-related delays on snowy roads. But by mid-afternoon, conditions were so treacherous and ridership was so low that buses were called back to the garages and service was halted.
It is expected to resume this morning.
The storm promises to be unusually expensive, because of its duration and the fact that it arrived on a state holiday.
The state had about $2 million left of its $20.1 million snow-clearing budget before Monday's storm started, but: ``Our budget has been depleted today,'' Rowland said. Money will be transferred from elsewhere in the state budget to cover the costs of any future storms this winter, he said.
During a heavy storm on a regular workday, the state spends about $60,000 hourly on materials, salaries, overtime and equipment costs. On a holiday, that cost jumps to $75,000 per hour.
The costs will continue even after the snow stops falling, since crews must go back out to move snow from highway shoulders, sand icy patches and reload the equipment in preparation for the next storm.
In addition to 632 state-owned snowplows, Connecticut called out most of its 242 private contractors Monday.
``It's budget busting,'' said Bhupen N. Patel, the public works director in Hartford.
Videos, Charades, Sledding
For many families, Monday's storm capped a three-day weekend. Many public school systems already have the week off for winter break, but private schools that otherwise would have had classes also called off their sessions.
Up a winding, snow-choked road that made West Hartford seem like a little piece of the White Mountains, the Thomson family hunkered down with DVDs, homemade mushroom soup and personal projects.
The blizzard brought a pleasant respite to the busy family of four, especially Willie, 18, and Lindsay, 15, who got a day off like their public school peers when their private school, Kingswood-Oxford, called off classes.
In his makeshift study, Willie used the unexpected free time to his advantage, chipping away at his senior thesis. He gambled for more time with an eye on the Weather Channel.
``If it's still snowing at 3 a.m., I'll bet they cancel school again,'' he said.
The Steckler family sought home entertainment at Blockbuster Video in West Hartford as a salve for a canceled morning flight to Florida. With the trip to warmer climes postponed, Sally Steckler said, ``We're going to watch some videos and eat ourselves into oblivion.''
Browsing nearby, the Collins family looked for a few videos to watch between sledding and snowboarding.
``We don't ever get a chance to do this,'' Sally Collins said. ``It's a great day to hang out and play charades.''
Even the governor's household stocked up on videos, with Rowland saying his wife picked up a stack at Blockbuster in West Hartford -- including ``Possession'' -- while he waited outside and kept the car warm.
At Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun, casino crowds were down. Both reported full hotels because of the weekend crowds, but not many people made a special trip Monday through the storm to the casinos.
``We have pretty much a full hotel. Outside of the folks that are staying with us in the hotel, it is pretty slow,'' said spokesman Michael Bloom.
For retailers and car dealers, the timing of Monday's storm couldn't have been worse. Malls, car dealerships and many other stores were forced to close, forgoing the President's Day sales that allow them to clear winter merchandise.
``We expected a rock 'em, sock 'em day,'' said Lane Resnick, general manager of Suburban Subaru and two other dealerships in Vernon. Instead, his sales staff sold four cars, all of them four-wheel drive.
Instead of crowds of shoppers, many businesses closed early or didn't open at all. Malls remained dark and restaurant stoves stayed cold.
At Buckland Hills Mall, almost everything was closed by 10 a.m., according to General Manager Nancy Murray. It's been about seven years since the mall closed down so early, she said.
``Elsewhere in Manchester, liquor stores and gasoline stations were among the few businesses that were still open by early afternoon.
The May Department Stores Co., which operates Filene's, Lord & Taylor and nine other chains, felt the storm's wallop across the East Coast. More than 100 of the company's 443 stores did not open, or closed early on Monday, said Sharon Bateman, a company spokeswoman.
This story was reported by Stephanie Reitz, Tina A. Brown, Daniela Altimari, Jim Farrell, Steve Grant, Rick Green, John Jurgensen, Bill Leukhardt, Paul Marks, Penelope Overton, Mark Pazniokas and Don Stacom. Associated Press reports are included.Copyright © 2015, CT Now