Residents of Southern New England are used to snowstorms, including the classic blizzards that can stalk this region like a hunter tracks prey. Such storms, known as nor'easters for the direction that the wind comes from, can shut down areas from New York City to Portland, Maine, and bring damaging coastal flooding, feet of snow, and widespread power outages.
This coming storm is not likely to cause nearly as much damage to trees and the electrical infrastructure, since it will bring fluffier snow, rather than the pasty, wet cement of the last nor'easter.
There's still a chance the latest nor'easter will track further away from the coast or closer to it, which would significantly change predicted snowfall amounts, but computer models are honing in on a track off the coast of Cape Cod.
The latest nor'easter will likely end a remarkably stormy run of weather for early March, making this winter bookended by a frigid outbreak around New Years and a snowstorm blitz just before spring, with well above average temperatures sandwiched in between.
A string of storms like this one is not unheard of in New England, as the atmosphere can fall into a pattern that produces a storm every four or five days. That's why some months appear to be rainy every weekend while the workweek is sunny and gorgeous. Interestingly, this next nor'easter hitting tonight is likely to help change the current weather pattern, with the Greenland block breaking down somewhat in coming days.
In addition, it's clear, that the impact of nor'easters, including the recent ones, is getting worse due to global warming. This is particularly the case with coastal flooding, since sea level rise is providing storms with a higher launching pad for floods than was the case in previous years. For example, the first of the three storms gave Boston it's third-highest tide level on record, with flooding occurring during at east five high tide cycles up and down the coast from Maine to Connecticut.
Also, global warming is causing seas to warm overall, and air temperatures to increase, which results in an uptick in the amount of available water vapor in the air to power major storms like nor'easters. Precipitation extremes, including heavy snow events during the winter, are becoming more common as the climate continues to change.
Interestingly, global warming might be giving people the impression that heavy snows don't occur as much anymore, making these nor'easters more surprising. As University of Georgia researcher Marshall Shepherd said in an email:
\"The string of nor'easters is having a significant impact, but it is somewhat amusing that cold and nor'easters have garnered so much attention, the changes in our climate have made having winter newsworthy.\"
These cyclonic storms prowl the eastern coast of the United States and Canada, bringing with them precipitation propelled by hurricane-force winds coming out of the northeast. In fact, the name \"nor'easter\" is a directional nod to the origins of the storms' strong winds.
From September through April, the U.S. East Coast is battered by up to 40 nor'easters spanning hundreds -- even thousands -- of miles in diameter. Nor'easters form as cold winds out of the northeast blow counter-clockwise around a low-pressure area. As warm air moves up from the south and east, the storm's growth is fueled by the warm water of the Gulf Stream, pooled adjacent to the East Coast. The temperature difference between the warm air over water and the cold air over land is the area where nor'easters are generated. Once the storms reach the New England region, they often cause widespread flooding, property damage and coastal erosion. While not all nor'easters are severe, all have the potential to become severe as massive rain- or snowfalls, oceanic storm surges and high winds combine [source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration].
While this deadly mix of conditions has occurred many times over, there are a few nor'easters that stand out from the crowd. From loss of life to sheer magnitude, we're taking a closer look at the 10 worst nor'easters of all time, beginning with a blizzard in the 1800s that still has people talking.
The storm's effects were well documented in New York City. The history-making nor'easter shut down the metropolis. It trapped passengers in New York City railcars for days, snapped elevated telephone and telegraph lines, and caused the deaths of 200 people. Another 200 were killed throughout the northeast.
This nor'easter was a big one, affecting nearly two-dozen states in the eastern U.S. Before it spat its last snowflake, the Storm of the Century in November 1950 prompted a spate of all-time record low temperatures, caused widespread flooding from New Jersey northward, killed more than 300 people and resulted in $70 million in storm damage [source: NOAA]. Still, it was the hurricane force winds and heavy snowfall that lingers in most survivors' memories.
Most nor'easters move swiftly, dashing in and out of heavily populated areas. In 1962, however, the Ash Wednesday storm stayed well beyond its welcome. No other winter storm in the last 50 years has done more damage.
The same year that Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first ice cream parlor and \"Laverne and Shirley\" became the nation's most popular television show, two massive blizzards blanketed the U.S. While one immobilized the central part of the U.S., another hit the New England region. This deadly snowstorm, known as the Northeast United States Blizzard of 1978, was ushered in by a feisty nor'easter on Feb. 5, 1978. It lasted two days and caused more than $529 million in damage, a sum that would equal more than $1.85 billion today.
In 1991, a nor'easter called the Perfect Storm converged on the East Coast during Halloween weekend. It was \"perfect\" not because of its spectacular nature, but because -- in meteorological terms -- the weather could not have been worse.
What started as a nor'easter in March 1993 ended as a disaster dubbed the \"Storm of the Century.\" In its wake were record snowfalls, coastal flooding, record-low temperatures, tornadoes, 318 lost lives and a hard look at the communication failures that took place in the days leading up to the storm.
The Storm of the Century was the product of an unlikely union: Three massive -- and separate -- weather systems unexpectedly mingled over the Gulf of Mexico and affected states along the East Coast, from Florida to Maine, as well as interior states that didn't often feel the effects of a powerful nor'easter. After the 100-year storm had run its multi-day course, 2.5 million people were without power and up to $6 billion in damage had been reported. For the first time in history, all the major airports on the Eastern Seaboard were shut down at the same time.
On Jan. 6, 1996, the longest weather-related closure of the U.S. federal government loomed -- and it all started with just a few snowflakes. Before long, however, the few lonely snowflakes that began falling in Washington, D.C. at 9 p.m. began to amass into an army as a blustery nor'easter colliding with warmer winds in the Gulf of Mexico brought more and more snow.
An unseasonably late nor'easter that struck April 14 to 18, 2007, left taxpayers in portions of Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire with flooded homes and businesses, as well as property damaged by high winds and travel made treacherous by snowfall. And, after granting a mere two-day extension, the IRS reconsidered, moving the tax filing and payment deadline to June 25, 2007 [source: IRS].
The massive storm system measured 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) across, intensifying into a nor'easter and reaching from the Carolinas to Canada, taking on a second life after several days spent moving up from the southwest and spawning tornadoes in Florida, Alabama and other states [source: McFadden].
Notably, the nor'easter also interfered with rescue efforts during a mass shooting at Virginia Tech. After a gunman killed 32 people and wounded dozens more (before turning the gun on himself) on the Blacksburg, Va., campus, high winds brought on by the April 2007 Nor'Easter prevented emergency responders from removing victims with the aid of helicopters [source: Holley].
It may have seemed more like a trick than a treat, but for many across the East Coast, a 2011 nor'easter ushered in a white Halloween. Snow began falling in record amounts on Oct. 29, 2011, and interrupted the candy-reaping plans of some ghouls and goblins as trees began to snap under the crushing weight of the snow. Some cities, such as Hartford, Conn., and Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., canceled Halloween festivities [source: Associated Press]
About 3 million people who lived in areas impacted by the storm were left without power for days, thanks to power lines brought down by heavy ice and snow. Some of those without electricity lived by candlelight and storing perishables outside in the cold for up to a week. Not surprisingly to those who attempted to shovel sidewalks, at least 20 cities set snowfall records during the nor'easter.
But why did Sandy turn into such a superstorm in the first place It seems a nor'easter may be partially to blame. Just as the hurricane headed northward along the coast, leaving Florida for the Eastern Seaboard, it seemed to head out into the Atlantic -- until a force pushed the warm air mass back toward land. That force A cold nor'easter, whose powerful winds wrangled with the tropical hurricane, morphing it into a hybrid part nor'easter, part hurricane and making it capable of gale force winds, snow and rain [source: Gannett].
Researching this article was fascinating. I could have written a separate article for each of these storms, thanks to detailed accounts and downright interesting information. I have to admit, I've always been enthralled by weather. Before I reached kindergarten, I'd stood on the veranda porch of the two-story farmhouse in which I lived, watching a tornado tear across a field just a few yards away. Looking back, we probably should have taken shelter, but tornadoes were as much a way of life for this Midwest kid as nor'easters seem to be for those who live along the East Coast. 59ce067264