North east? I'm in Toronto so probably similar weather.
I feel much better in sloppy weather having the hardtop on than the softtop. I drive in winter with flurries but not full blown snow.
I find that the noise level on the highway is about the same. My hardtop squeaks a bit in city traffic but not on the highway. The softtop doesn't squeak. I haven't tried the trick about talcum powder but it sounds like a good idea.
In winter I give the car a quick handwash from time to time. Having the hardtop makes that easier.
I'd advise getting the hardtop. I put mine on for the 4 or 5 months of winter. I don't remove the hardtop except at the end of the winter season. So I sometimes miss the open air experience if a nice day pops up towards the end of the season.
For me it takes about an hour to put on and 30 minutes to remove but I've only done it a couple of times.