The season's first big snowstorm turned the Island into a winter wonderland yesterday and last night. It marked the first time in years the Vineyard has seen so much snow before Christmas.

By the dinner hour, there were several inches of freshly fallen snow on the ground. The storm that swept through southern New England fell most heavily in the afternoon; by midnight it had tapered to flurries and, in some neighborhoods, to a light drizzle. This snow might hang around for a while; an arctic blast expected next week could keep the snow where it is.

Island police were summoned to a number of car accidents in the late afternoon. There were several calls for police in Oak Bluffs, but Edgartown was relatively quiet.

Edgartown police Sgt. Kenneth Johnson said of the scene: "It's lovely out there, though it's really slippery."

The six inches of snow that fell before 6 p.m. last night had already matched the total for the rest of the calendar year to date. By morning, cumulative snowfall for 2002 was moving toward the previous year's total of just less than 12 inches.

Island youngsters who had suffered snowless winters were quick to take advantage yesterday afternoon, heading to local hills with sleds. There were more than 50 sledders at Sweetened Water Farm by dusk, and at least a dozen at Tashmoo Overlook earlier in the afternoon.

Some Island ponds are covered with snow over a dangerously thin layer of ice.

Forecasters had predicted the storm for days. Cold weather from the north and west merged with moisture coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. The snow that hit North Carolina and Virginia on Wednesday, reached New York Thursday morning and flurries arrived in Vineyard Haven before noon. With very little wind, accumulations grew at close to an inch an hour.

Michael Henry, a meteorologist for Weather Services in Lexington, said the snow fell in a narrow band across the nation.

"We're looking at a major winter storm that has affected millions of people from Texas to here. This same system came out of Texas, and moved along the Gulf Coast creating ice storms over the Carolinas. There are millions of people without electrical power," Mr. Henry said.

While temperatures will rise to the 40s this weekend, Mr. Henry said cold arctic air is due from Canada next week.

"I see temperatures being around normal over the weekend but below normal into next week," he said.

Yesterday's storm is indicative of a colder than usual autumn. While cold temperatures have not persisted very long on the Vineyard in recent years, data from the National Weather Service cooperative station in Edgartown indicate the weather since October is consistent with weather patterns over the decades; it's the last few years that have been an aberration.

Precipitation totals are also normal. This year the Vineyard has seen 41.4 inches of precipitation, about average. The drought-like conditions of last summer are over, as both October and November were wet months. Total rainfall for last month was 7.6 inches, well above the average of 4.4 inches.

November and October were also cool months. On nine November mornings the temperature dropped below freezing, and the first days of December have reached the teens. The temperature dropped to 16 degrees Wednesday morning, so it should be no surprise if the snow on the ground isn't melting.

As Mr. Henry said, "This snow isn't going anywhere for a long time."