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Early storm batters mid-Atlantic

An unusually early and powerful nor'easter dumped wet, heavy snow Saturday on parts of the mid-Atlantic region, weighing down or toppling leafy trees and power lines and knocking out electricity for 2.3 million as the storm headed toward New England.

Communities inland were getting hit hardest, with eastern Pennsylvania serving as the bull's-eye for the storm, said National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro. Some places got more than half a foot of snow, and towns near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border saw 10 inches fall. And New York City's Central Park set a record for both the date and the month of October with 1.3 inches of snow by midafternoon and more falling.

More than 665,000 people were without power in New Jersey, including Gov. Chris Christie, who declared a state of emergency Saturday. Two hospitals that lost power were operating on generators. Utilities in Connecticut reported more than 520,000 without power, while utilities in Pennsylvania said more than 560,000 had no power. In New York, more than 260,000 lost power, and in Massachusetts, more than 200,000 were without electricity. Western Maryland had more than 26,000 outages and utilities were bringing in crews from other states to help restore it.

Throughout the region, officials had warned that the early storm would bring sticky snow on the heels of the week's warmer weather and could create dangerous conditions, especially since most branches still had their leaves, making them prone to break.

And the storm was expected to worsen as it swept north. The heaviest snowfall was forecast for today in the Massachusetts Berkshires, the Litchfield Hills in northwestern Connecticut, southwestern New Hampshire and the southern Green Mountains. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph were predicted, especially along coastal areas.

Some said that even though they knew a storm was coming, the severity caught them by surprise.

"This is absolutely a lot more snow than I expected to see today. I can't believe it's not even Halloween and it's snowing already," Carole Shepherd of Washington Township, N.J., said after shoveling her driveway.

The storm disrupted travel along the Eastern Seaboard. Philadelphia International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport all had hourslong delays Saturday. Amtrak suspended service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa., and commuter trains in Connecticut and New York were delayed or suspended because of downed trees and signal problems.

Western New York was on the fringe of the storm, so only areas of Cattaraugus and Allegany counties received a trace to an inch of snow on Saturday, said Aaron Reynolds, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

As for the weather today, Reynolds said, the local forecast shows mostly sunny skies with high temperatures in the mid-40s.

C. Douglas Hartmayer, a spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, said several international flights were diverted from Newark to Buffalo, where the planes landed and refueled, before taking off again. One plane bound for JFK from Trinidad was redirected to Buffalo, where passengers deboarded and spent the night.

Further east, residents were urged to avoid travel altogether. Speed limits were reduced on bridges between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A few roads closed because of accidents and downed trees and power lines, and more were expected, said Sean Brown, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

The storm came on a busy weekend for many, with trick-or-treaters going door-to-door in search of Halloween booty, hunting season opening in some states and a full slate of college and pro football scheduled.

But the snow didn't deter the travel plans of Dave Baker, who's been going to Penn State football games for 45 years and made the 200-mile drive from Warminster, outside Philadelphia. He merely adjusted his packing list: Out went the breakfast fixings -- his group ate early at a restaurant rather than at the tailgate -- in stayed the burgers and hot dogs. And the cold came in handy.

"I didn't have to buy as much ice for the beer," he said.

Parts of New York saw a mix of snow, rain and slush that made for sheer misery at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City, where drenched protesters hunkered down in tents and under tarps as the plaza filled with rainwater and melted snow.