Melissa Lyons was sound asleep when the wind began whipping around her East Kingston home early Thursday.
By 3 a.m., it seemed like everything was crashing down on Willow Road.
“It sounded like an explosion,” she said.
Three large oaks toppled, slicing off part of a nearby maple, snapping utility poles, tearing down wires, and damaging a lamp post. The mangled mess that closed Willow Road for hours was a scene that played out across New Hampshire Thursday as a powerful nor’easter knocked out electricity to nearly 120,000 homes and businesses and forced many schools to close or delay openings due to downed trees and wires.
The state opened its emergency operations center to monitor conditions and support the response to the storm, which brought heavy rain and winds that gusted over 50 mph in some areas.
The storm was one for the record books as the pressure dropped to 973 millibars in Concord. That beat a 980.4 millibar storm in 2006 and is now the lowest pressure of any October storm on record, according to Michael Clair, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm pressure-wise. It’s just a way to measure the strength of the storm,” he said.
While the pressure was a record breaker, the conditions that resulted weren’t necessarily the worst the state has seen. Clair said other factors also affect the outcome of a storm. Eversource, the state’s largest utility, reported nearly 84,000 customers lost power.
The utility had more than 400 line, tree and service workers repairing the damage, with work expected to continue into Friday. The company said it was able to restore power to more than 28,000 customers in less than five minutes using “smart switches.”
“We prepare for strong storms year-round by designing and hardening our system to help withstand severe weather conditions like the fierce winds this nor’easter brought. Using the smart switches we have installed on our electric system, our system operators were able to isolate and reroute power to thousands of our customers impacted by this storm within minutes. Our crews are making good progress and will continue to work until all our customers are restored,” said Joe Purington, Eversource New Hampshire’s vice president of electric operations.
At the height of the storm, New Hampshire Electric Co-op had 20,000 customers in the dark. Company spokesman Seth Wheeler said all power would be restored by Friday night. Wheeler said outages were expected in southern areas, but he was surprised by the numbers seen in the Lakes Region and Plymouth area.
Unitil’s outages peaked at more than 15,000, with the majority on the Seacoast. The National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, reported a wind gust of 53 mph in Portsmouth and 49 mph in Manchester, while an 81 mph peak gust was recorded near the Isles of Shoals.
The top of Mount Washington saw a 128 mph gust. Heavy rain prompted flood advisories in southern areas, where 1 to 3 inches of rain fell. In Hampstead, highway crews warned of slippery roads because of the wet leaves. The leaves and branches that littered many roads also prompted some towns to use plows to clear the mess.
The ferocious winds helped fuel a fire that destroyed a 200-year-old barn and heavily damaged an attached two-story house at 57 Twist Hill Road in Dunbarton. The house was being renovated and wasn’t occupied, according to fire officials. Firefighters saved a garage with an occupied apartment and several outbuildings that housed farm animals.
The strong winds also wreaked havoc at the site of the annual snowmobile grass drags on Martin Road in Fremont. Large sections of a wooden backstop on the track were blown apart and ticket booths were tipped over and damaged as winds roared through the field, uprooting tents put up for the event.
The races were held last weekend and is hosted by the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association.
“It would have been devastating to have that happen before the event,” said Dan Gould, the snowmobile association’s executive director.