Leaving behind a landscape of gingerbread houses and diamond-crusted trees, a fast-moving snowstorm that threw four to six inches of the fluffy, white stuff on Princeton closed schools on Friday, but caused relatively few other problems for area residents, according to Princeton police and public works officials.
"We had more accidents on Thursday than we had on Friday," Borough Police Lieutenant Dennis McManimon said, referring to the day before the storm.
"We didn't have any traffic problems on Friday; public works got the streets cleared quickly," he said, adding that people tend to drive more carefully in bad weather.
As for the accidents on Thursday, which numbered 10, he had no explanation. "Sometimes we just have a bad day," he said.
The snow pulled the first of Borough public works personnel out of bed early with a scheduled round of salting set for 2 a.m. and plowing by 4 a.m., Wayne Carr, the Borough's director of public works, said.
In the township, the situation was similar, with a thorough salting of streets followed by plowing rounds when accumulations built up enough for trucks to push it, said Don Hansen, superintendent of public works in the Township.
Both municipalities contended with the problem of snow-covered leaf piles, a consequence of early snows. And it meant that crews had to continue clean-up rounds even after the plowing stopped.
Early commuter Brendan Lynch, who grabs a train for his job as an analyst at Lehman Brothers in Manhattan, said he wasn't able to find his morning newspaper under a blanket of fresh snow, but he was still able to get to work with little mishap.
"I couldn't find the Wall Street Journal under four inches of snow, so I had to read the New York Post on the way in," Mr. Lynch said, regretting that his reading material hadn't helped boost his business day.
Later, when children were waking up to the news that schools were closed, it was "snowing snowballs," according to one 9-year-old's apt description.
But the storm moved quickly, leaving blue skies in its wake by early afternoon.
"It was an impressive storm. It was moving very quickly, dropping two to three inches of snow an hour," said New Jersey state climatologist at Rutgers University, David Robinson.
It was heavy snow because it changed over briefly to rain before going back to snow, making shoveling difficult. But its consistency and abundance seemed to inspire school age kids, who produced a bumper crop of snow people that continue to line the streets and lanes of Princeton as cold temperatures have lingered.
"It's crusty on the top, but soft and powdery underneath," said Sarah Schwartz, 15, who made a snowman with a friend in the front yard of her Borough home.
When asked when she last had made a snowman on her front yard, she said. "It's been far too long."
Friday's storm wasn't the area's first snow of the season; but it was the biggest. "There were three significant snow events during the first full week of December," Mr. Robinson said.
"We had snow Sunday morning, Tuesday morning, and on Friday," Mr. Robinson said, putting Princeton's snow tally for December so far at 10 inches, including three inches on Sunday, 1.5 inches on Tuesday, and an average 5.5 inches on Friday.
"It's not unusual to have snow in early December," Mr. Robinson said, "but it's unusual to have three plowable snow events in early December."
In three of the last four years, Princeton has had snow in early December, according to Mr. Robinson. Six inches fell on Dec. 6, 2002 and a foot dropped on December 6 and 7, 2003, and this year there has been 10 inches so far.
Central New Jersey got the brunt of Sunday's snow, he added.
But on Friday, snow accumulations in the state varied from one inch along the coast to 10 inches in the upper northwestern areas, Mr. Robinson said.
He said the Route 1 corridor was a dividing line, with areas south of Route 1 getting an early changeover to sleet and rain that kept totals down.
The storm "exploded off the coast of New Jersey," causing snow with thunder in some areas, and damage on Cape Cod due to hurricane force winds, Mr. Robinson said.
While the snow kept Princeton schools closed, the Princeton Regional School District doesn't build any snow days into its calendar. Instead, every day schools are closed, a day is added to the end of the school year.
It remains to be seen whether the week's weather will mean more than average snowfall for the season. Records suggest, however, that "when you get off to a snowy start, more often than not, you end up with frequent enough storms and frequent enough cold weather, to get above-average snowfall," Mr. Robinson said. "For some reason, a pattern locks in."
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