By Daniel Lovering
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - New Englanders expressed disbelief on Thursday that Hurricane Sandy might produce a freak storm like last year's "Snowtober," which ruined Halloween, knocked out power and paralyzed the region for weeks.
As Hurricane Sandy raced northward off Florida's Atlantic coast, meteorologists pointed to computer models that showed one possible path for the storm would have it hitting New England early next week, bringing wind, rain and possibly snow.
"Oh no, I hope not," said store owner Laurene York, whose Mohawk Trading Post in Shelburne, Massachusetts, was buried under 10 inches of snow on Halloween last year.
"Deja vu from last year when we were out of power and stuck here," York said.
October 2011's monster snowstorm dumped more than two feet of snow in some areas, killed at least 12 people and cut power to more than 3 million customers across the region, including the worst outages in Connecticut history.
For the area's smallest citizens, the biggest hardship was the postponement or outright cancellation of Halloween.
"They really hope it doesn't snow on Halloween again," said Shannon Collins, whose children, ages 7 and 4, were "very upset" when their 2011 trick-or-treat routines were delayed by snow in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
Instead, they wore their costumes inside their snowbound house, and bundled up in winter gear to build a snowman shaped like a pumpkin, Collins said.
Street cleaning crews and utility workers vowed to use last year's chilling lessons to be better prepared for this year's potential storm.
"The past year has been all about improving storm response," said Mitch Gross, a spokesman for Connecticut Light and Power, the utility harshly criticized for its response to 2011 outages and ordered to improve its storm readiness.
After last year's October snowstorm, some 880,000 Connecticut homes lost power, some for nearly two weeks. Outages were blamed on downed wires, most of which were caused by fallen trees and branches.
"Our crews are prepared," said Gross, who said the company was closely monitoring the long-range forecast. "We're ready to respond."
CL&P has completed an independent review of procedures, technology upgrades to gather information in real time and relay it to customers, greater use of stronger power lines and utility poles, and tree trimming, Gross said.
"Our customers love their trees, and one of our challenges is to strike that balance, when we trim, between aesthetics and a reliable system," said Gross.
He said CL&P covers "one of the most heavily wooded areas of any power company in the country."
Chainsaws and snowplows were gassed up and ready to go at the town garage in Litchfield, Connecticut, said Jack Healy, public works director.
"If it comes, we'll be ready," said Healy, who said his crews on Thursday and Friday would be doing "all the preliminary things we would do before a large storm."
City officials in Springfield, Massachusetts, also urged residents to follow weather reports and keep "a very heightened sense of alertness" about the possible storm, said Thomas Walsh, city communications director.
Safety is a major concern, he said, especially in the wake of last year's October snowstorm, during which a young man was electrocuted in Springfield when he touched a metal guard rail that was electrified by a downed power line.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Vicki Allen)
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