All signs point to a significant blizzard in the Northeast on Monday night and Tuesday, with major cities like New York and Boston probably measuring snow in feet by the time the storm clears out. If the forecast pans out, this will be one of the most significant winter storms we've seen in quite a few years.
It's a Big Deal
We've seen milquetoast winter storms hyped up with scary adjectives for the last couple of years, but this one promises to be the real deal. Snow weenies dream of and snow haters fear the storm that meteorologists are predicting right now. Blizzard watches are in effect for the coast from New Jersey to Massachusetts, and the models are coming into sound agreement that some parts of the megalopolis could see up to (or even a little more than) two feet of snow.
Forecasts will be refined as more weather model runs filter in today and tomorrow, but it's pretty clear that, save for a bust scenario coming to fruition (see below), this is going to be a significant blizzard.
Speaking of which, a "blizzard" isn't just a scareterm for a heavy snowstorm. The word has a specific definition when used in this context. The National Weather Service declares a storm a blizzard when it produces 35 MPH winds and blowing snow that drops visibility to less than one-quarter of a mile for at least three consecutive hours. In other words, a blizzard is a sustained whiteout and not just heavy snow.
"CRIPPLING AND POTENTIALLY HISTORIC BLIZZARD"
Winter storms in the United States are not named like hurricanes. The Weather Channel's winter storm naming scheme is a social media advertising campaign—when you Google the name they've assigned this storm, it takes you to their website and nowhere else. Think about that.
The Bust Potential
The scary thing about a potentially huge storm like this is the potential for a huge bust. Nor'easters are a tricky balancing act between track, cold air, and moisture. This system will have no trouble with moisture or cold air; the precipitation will be all snow. The problem lies in the track—if the storm scoots just a little farther east than the models are showing, snow totals could drop dramatically and the forecast will be a huge, embarrassing bust.
The preponderance of evidence suggests that this could be a "blockbuster" storm (as many are calling it), and forecasts reflect this fact. Weather forecast is an inexact science, however, so keep in mind that just the smallest shift in the storm's track off of what's forecast will result in far lower snowfall accumulations.
The last in a series of Alberta Clippers is making its way across the Midwest this afternoon; the system will produce several inches of snow along the way, potentially culminating in another commute nightmare in the Washington D.C. area on Monday morning.
As the clipper scoots over the Atlantic Ocean, it will come under the influence of a deep trough and powerful jet stream, rapidly developing into a formidable nor'easter. If it plays out the way the models are showing, this will be a classic nor'easter that will grind travel to a halt for several days, close schools for the week in spots, and go down in local folklore as the Blizzard of 2015.
Snow will begin in the Washington D.C. metro area tonight as the clipper moves through and the coastal storm begins to develop. Precipitation associated with the clipper and the developing snowstorm will push into New Jersey and New York during the morning and afternoon hours on Monday, with the heaviest precipitation enveloping the region on Monday night. The heaviest band of snow will pass through coastal New England early on Tuesday morning (pictured above). Snow should taper off from south to north through the day on Tuesday.
The big question on everyone's mind regarding this storm is "how much snow will I get?" Exact snowfall totals beyond 12" really don't matter except for record-keeping purposes. Once you have a foot of snow on the ground, it's already nearly impossible to travel and a pain in the back to remove; it's the subsequent increments of six inches (12", 18", 24", 30", 36") that make it harder to remove and have a greater impact on travel.
As it stands this afternoon, there will be a large swath of real estate that sees one foot of snow on the ground by the time the storm clears out on Tuesday. Here's a look at forecasts from local National Weather Service offices affected by the storm, starting with Washington and moving up the coast. Keep in mind that these totals will change as forecasters receive new data and refine their predictions.
NOTE: The following snowfall forecasts were generated and posted before sunset on Sunday. If you're reading this late on Sunday or early on Monday, be sure to click through each NWS office's page for the most up-to-date forecast.
Most people don't think of a storm surge when they think of a blizzard, but the winds with the nor'easter will be so strong that the storm will shove a small storm surge into the coast, much like a hurricane does when it makes landfall. Minor to moderate coastal flooding is likely from New Jersey to Maine where high tide coincides with the strongest winds. Low-lying coastal areas could several feet of water come ashore if high tide if conditions come together perfectly. Keep this in mind if you live along the coast and you're in a location susceptible to flooding, and pay attention to coastal flood warnings if they're issued.
There are two seemingly new terms that are coming to the attention of the public as weather geeks talk about this storm.
Using this storm as an example, a "deformation zone" will be the area where the northwestern section of the nor'easter clashes with the existing airmass over land, creating a very heavy, persistent band of snow that dumps over the same area for many hours at a time. Areas that are stuck under the deformation zone usually wind up seeing the greatest snowfall totals.
40°N, 70°W Benchmark
Meteorologists have found that 40°N, 70°W is a great benchmark to determine how much of an impact a nor'easter will have on the megalopolis. When the center of a nor'easter crosses that 40°N, 70°W coordinate, it's in the "sweet spot" for significant snows to affect New England's major coastal cities.
The blizzard could push 24-hour snowfall records in some locations, but as the storm is expected to begin on Monday and end on Tuesday, the midnight split through the middle of the storm could ruin the calendar day's chances of appearing in the record books. Here are some records for select major cities in the Northeast.
- Central Park's single greatest 24-hour snowfall was 24.1 inches on February 12, 2006. This storm needs to produce more than 12.8" (February 11, 1994) in 24 hours in order to break into the top-ten largest single-day snowfall events.
- JFK Airport's single greatest 24-hour snowfall was 21.6 inches on February 17, 2003. The storm needs to produce more than 10.9" (February 10, 2010) in 24 hours to crack into the airport's top-ten.
- LaGuardia Airport's single greatest 24-hour snowfall was 23.3 inches on February 12, 2006. This storm needs to produce more than 11.6" in 24 hours to cement its spot in LaGuardia's record books.
- Boston Logan Airport's single greatest 24-hour snowfall was 23.6 inches on February 17, 2003. This blizzard needs to drop more than 14.4" of snow in 24 hours to become a top-ten storm.
- Hartford, Connecticut's single greatest 24-hour snowfall was 17.7 inches on December 29, 1945. The city needs to see more than 11.6" of snow in 24 hours to break into the top-ten. If any of the above records fall, this is the one that's most in danger.
The good thing about this storm is that the worst snows over the most heavily populated areas are likely going to occur at night when people are less likely to venture out and get themselves stuck. If you have to go out during the heaviest snow, make sure you have an emergency supply kit (first aid, water, blankets, flares, radio, cell phone, batteries, money) that's easily accessible to you. Carry some kitty litter and a snow shovel in your trunk in case you get stuck and need traction.
Make plans for food, water, and other necessities in case you lose power for an extended period of time. Remember not to use any sort of grills or generators indoors unless you really really want carbon monoxide poisoning. Kids, have as much fun as you can this week so it's worth making up the time in June.
Snow weenies, enjoy the storm you've been praying to see for years. Snow haters, there are only 54 days until astronomical spring.