Heavy snow slams CT, shuttering schools and COVID testing sites

Photo of Peter Yankowski

As the first major winter storm of the season hit Connecticut Wednesday evening, state officials again urged pandemic-weary residents to stay in their homes.

By Wednesday afternoon, several school districts had already announced plans to either teach remotely or had canceled school entirely for Thursday.

The nor’easter is expected to dump more than a foot of snow in most of Connecticut by the time it winds down Thursday morning.

Snowfall rates could hit 2 inches per hour, the National Weather Service Prediction Center said Wednesday afternoon. Southern New England, as well as parts of Pennsylvania and New York, are expected to get more than 12 inches of snow.

The far southeastern corner of the state could see snow change to sleet and rain around midnight before transitioning back to snow Thursday morning, according to the NWS.

Strong winds are expected along the coast, with lighter winds further inland. Some coastal areas could see flooding, and Long Island Sound could see waves as high as 4 to 7 feet through Thursday afternoon.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, the governor again called for residents to stay home.

“I don’t want to downplay what’s going to be a heavy snowstorm,” Lamont said. “But after having an emergency for the last nine months where we had to learn along the way every day, this is an old-fashioned emergency — the type of snowstorm we’re used to here in New England.”

The governor also banned tractor trailers and tandem trailers from limited access highways between 9 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. Thursday, along with neighboring states.

If drivers do go on the road, they should leave plenty of room around other vehicles and avoid using cruise control, sharp turns or braking suddenly, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a tweet. Stay behind plow trucks and only pass when safe to do so.

Drivers should also keep their gas tanks at least half-full and be alert to road conditions.

The state has around 1,600 Department of Transportation workers on the roads, with an additional 200 contractors standing by, the governor’s office reported.

Commissioner Joseph Giulietti said 37 DOT employees have COVID-19, including 24 members of the highway department.

The governor directed state office buildings to close Thursday, with employees who are able to work remotely ordered to do so.

Representatives from Eversource, the state’s largest electrical utility supplier, and United Illuminating said they have been monitoring the weather and are prepared.

“The good news from a utility perspective is it is a drier snow,” said Craig Hallstrom, Eversource’s president of regional electric operations for Massachusetts and New England. He said the utility company would be watching the areas along the coast that are expected to see higher gusts of wind.

Eversource has about 475 line workers, 250 tree crews and 120 to 130 damage assessors prepped for the storm, he said.

Bill Hackett, the state’s emergency management director, said the governor will have the option to declare a state of emergency for the storm, based on reports from municipal and tribal leaders. A decision to do so would be made “as soon as our resources are tapped,” Hackett said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Lamont activated the state’s severe cold weather protocol through noon Friday. The decision allows state and local agencies to coordinate with United Way 211 to find vulnerable populations shelter during the storm.

Commissioner James Rovella, of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, said state police are fully staffed.

Ahead of the storm, many Connecticut municipalities instituted street parking bans to give plow crews more room to work.

Sherman, Wallingford, Danbury, Hamden, Fairfield, East Hartford and Trumbull were among the municipalities that told residents to find off-street parking during the storm.

Several school districts also announced students on Thursday would learn remotely — a new normal spurred by the pandemic.

Ridgefield Superintendent Susie Da Silva announced public schools would have a traditional snow day with no remote learning Thursday.

Norwalk Public Schools will have students learning remotely through Jan. 4. In Bridgeport, the state’s largest city, schools plan to have students learn remotely on Thursday and Friday.

Other districts throughout the state have announced similar plans.

Lamont said a traditional snow day seems “antiquated” after months of students learning remotely during the pandemic.

“We’ve made a big effort to bridge that digital divide,” he said.

The storm has also closed many COVID-19 testing sites.

Hartford HealthCare announced it would close all of its drive-thru testing sites Thursday. The organization urged those who needed testing to schedule an appointment for Wednesday or Friday instead.

Lamont said all of the state’s vaccine shipments for the week had arrived before the storm.

“If you stay safe, stay home for 24 hours, I think we’re going to be OK,” the governor said.