Blockbuster nor’easter on track to bury Boston with heavy snow
Winter storm watches were issued between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning from the mid-Atlantic to southeastern New England in advance of a nor’easter that is set to charge up the East Coast Friday night into Sunday. As it chugs along, the storm will strengthen into a bomb cyclone and a full-blown blizzard will ensue in eastern New England.
The first winter storm watches were issued for portions of eastern Massachusetts, eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island on Wednesday at 3 p.m. -- some 57 hours before they were set to go into effect at 12 a.m. on Saturday.
By Friday morning, the watches had been upgraded to warnings in Connecticut, southeastern New York, including New York City and Long Island, much of New Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, and much of the Delmarva Peninsula.
For the Jersey Shore, including Atlantic City, New Jersey, southward to the Delaware Beaches, a blizzard warning was in effect.
The winter storm and blizzard warnings were due to go into effect at 7 p.m. Friday evening and last through 7 p.m. Saturday evening.
In northern New England, blizzard warnings were hoisted in coastal Maine, including Portland. Farther inland, winter storm warnings were issued, including the state capital of Augusta. With the storm moving from south to north, these warnings do not go into effect until 7 a.m. Saturday morning and run until 6 a.m. Sunday morning.
"Everything is on the table with this storm,” AccuWeather Chief On-Air Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said Thursday, adding that a fresh injection of cold air will arrive ahead of the storm, which will develop near eastern North Carolina late this week. The storm will then rapidly intensify while it moves northward along or just off the East Coast into the weekend.
Farther north, the previously issued winter storm watches were also upgraded to winter storm warnings early on Friday morning and will go into effect at midnight early Saturday morning and expire at midnight Sunday morning. This included Rhode Island and much of central and eastern Massachusetts. In coastal Massachusetts, including Boston, blizzard warnings valid for the same time period had also been issued on Friday morning.
"Eastern New England and the eastern tip of Long Island, New York, is where you have a very good probability of getting more than a foot of snow,” Rayno added. The AccuWeather Local StormMax™ snowfall of 42 inches is predicted to occur in eastern New England.
As the storm quickly strengthens, it will create hurricane-force winds across parts of eastern New England, raising concerns for significant blowing and drifting of snow, reduced visibility, power outages and blizzard conditions. Along the coastline, flooding and beach erosion will be a serious threat, especially in eastern Massachusetts.
“Winds will become a major problem. This could be a real damaging storm,” Rayno said.
The mid-Atlantic will pick up snowfall, with coastal areas from eastern Maryland and Delaware on north toward New York City expected to see the heaviest snow totals of the region.
Boston will be in the heart of the storm, which is expected to unload 18-24 inches in the city. It is not out of the question for the blizzard to climb into the top-five biggest snowstorms to impact Boston, and it could be the biggest to hit Beantown in January. Other locations that will see a similar dumping of snow, with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 42 inches, are Providence, Rhode Island, to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Portland, Maine.
Just west of this zone from Islip, New York, to Hartford, Connecticut, Worcester, Massachusetts, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Bangor, Maine, 12-18 inches are in store, forecasters say, which is still a tremendous accumulation considering the major blowing and drifting snow that is anticipated during and after the storm.
Maine Power is preparing for the incoming storm by staging crew around the area.
"We’ve brought in 300 additional lineworkers. This compliments our 200 internal lineworkers. And we’re also going to be bringing in some additional tree crews. So, we’ll be mobilizing all of those resources over the next couple of days," said Central Maine Power VP of Electric Operations, Adam Desrosiers.
The combination of winds frequenting 40 mph or greater along with dry and powdery snow will reduce the visibility to 1/4 of a mile or less for several hours, triggering blizzard conditions in portions of New England.
Measuring the snow in Boston and many other areas in eastern New England, however, may be an exercise in futility for some. Due to the extensive amount of blowing and drifting of snow expected from the blizzard, taking an accurate reading could be extremely difficult. Moreover, travel could become impossible due to significant drifting of snow, which could pile up high enough to completely cover some cars.
New York City may still be buried by a heavy snowfall of 6 to 12 inches. Farther south, accumulations will be lower in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The heaviest snow will come down east of those cities as drier air may reduce snow totals in the metro areas. Still, Philadelphia could pick up 3 to 6 inches of snow from the storm. The nation’s capital and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor may pick up a couple of inches.
"The scope of the western and northern extent of the heavy snow and blizzard conditions is highly dependent on the track and intensity of the storm, which can potentially cause big differences in impacts," AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jon Porter explained.
The snow will be heavy enough to shovel and plow in much of the Interstate-95 corridor from Virginia to the New York City area, leading to slippery and slow travel with the risk of accidents and traffic standstills.
Should the storm jog as little as 50 miles farther to the west than currently projected, the 3- to 6-inch snow accumulations predicted in Philadelphia and the 6-12 inches forecast from New York City to Ocean City, Maryland, could be doubled. However, if the opposite happens and the storm tracks 50 miles farther to the east, snowfall in these areas could be halved instead.
The sprawling New York City metro area, in particular, is likely to experience a wide range of accumulations. In northwestern New Jersey, only an inch or two of snow could fall, but areas in central Long Island, New York, will face over a foot of snow. Any small shift in the storm track to the east or west could mean the difference between a manageable snowfall or blizzard conditions in the five boroughs of the city.
To prepare, the New York City Sanitation Department has 700 salt spreaders in the city loaded up and ready to respond to the storm.
"We’re telling people to stay off the roads, only do essential travel, be very careful, this is another snow where, coupled with the snow coming in, we’re talking about really high winds," New York City Sanitation Department Commissioner Edward Grayson told AccuWeather National Reporter Emmy Victor.
The intense storm has the potential to shut down airports, such as Boston Logan International Airport, and could lead to scores of flight cancellations in New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., that can have ripple effects across the nation as crews and aircraft are displaced.
AccuWeather forecasters advise avoiding travel across much of New England during the storm on Saturday and Saturday night if it is avoidable. Heavy snow rates between 2 and 4 inches per hour along with extensive blowing and drifting snow will create extremely dangerous travel conditions. Snow drifts of several feet could occur in open areas. The storm is likely to maintain that intensity for a period of 8-12 hours, making it difficult to impossible for crews to keep up with roadways. Motorists who venture out could risk becoming stranded.
Farther to the south, parts of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic will be sideswiped by the big storm. Up to a few inches of snow can fall across portions of eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia that were hit by significant snow and ice this past weekend. Blowing and drifting of snow could also occur in the storm’s wake.
Should the storm strengthen to its maximum potential, hurricane-force winds of 74 mph or greater could be felt in southeastern New England, causing power outages. An AccuWeather Local StormMax™ wind gust of 90 mph is most likely to occur in southeastern Massachusetts.
"Roads prone to flooding during nor'easters along the coast in eastern Massachusetts and along the north shore of Long Island are likely to be inundated with significant overwash from this storm," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said. The combination of the astronomical effects of the new moon this weekend can make the high tides early Saturday morning and Saturday evening most problematic. Minor to moderate coastal flooding is anticipated from New Jersey to eastern New England with a storm surge averaging 2-4 feet.
Farther west over central New England and along the mid-Atlantic coast, the dry, powdery nature of the snow will not adhere to tree limbs. However, winds can still be strong enough to cause sporadic power outages with gusts topping 40 mph at times on Saturday.
Preceding the snowstorm will be intermittent snow and flurries during Thursday night and Friday from parts of the central Appalachians to the mid-Atlantic and New England as a press of Arctic air arrives from Canada.
"Due to limited moisture available for this event, accumulations are likely to be light, but as we have seen in the past, even a quick coating of snow can make for hazardous conditions on the highways," AccuWeather Senior Storm Warning Meteorologist Brian Wimer said.
A general coating to an inch of snow is forecast with a few spots picking up a bit more. In much of the zone from central Virginia to central Pennsylvania, central and northern New York state and northwestern New England, it will be snow associated with a cold front on Friday that is more likely to bring an accumulation as opposed to the nor’easter from Friday night to Saturday.
Winds on the backside of the nor'easter will usher Arctic air throughout New England, the central Appalachians, the mid-Atlantic, the Midwest and Southeast regions.
Even much of the Florida Peninsula will be affected with the risk of a damaging freeze for agriculture.
Any wet and slushy areas created by the storm in the mid-Atlantic and New England could freeze on Saturday night and Sunday night.
Additional reporting by AccuWeather National Reporter Emmy Victor.
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