Sunday, January 25, 2015

Epic New England Storm This Week Has Troubling Resemblance To Blizzard of 1978

Route 128 near Boston after the Blizzard of 1978.
UHopefully, the oncoming storm won't be as bad.  

Blizzard watch has been extended westward to the New York City metro area and parts of northern New Jersey.

Latest guidance offers 1 to 2 feet of snow and winds gusting to 50 mph in that area during the storm Monday night and Tuesday


It turns out Saturday's messy snowstorm across the Mid-Atlantic States and the southeastern half of New England was just a warm up to the Main Event.

A potentially historic blizzard/winter storm now seems like a good bet for much of southern New England Monday night and Tuesday.

Not to scare anyone, but there are some similarities to the Blizzard of 1978 with this one, though Monday and Tuesday's storm won't be quite as bad as the 1978 disaster

If you were planning on traveling to Boston, Providence, Hartford or New York City Monday night or Tuesday take my advice: Fuhgettabout it. Stay home. Travel could become impossible in areas during the height of the storm.

This dire forecast might come as a surprise to people who weren't paying attention. It surprised the heck out of me whe new runs of computer weather forecasting models came out Saturday afternoon.

During the day Saturday, those forecasting models, which had been suggesting a big new developing nor'easter would stay far enough off the coast to give only light to moderate effects to coastal regions from Maryland to Maine.

Hoo-Boy! Now things are different. That developing nor'easter is going to hit SUPER hard and make Saturday's storm look like just a light flurry.  The National Weather Service in the Boston area is saying this could easily end up being a historic, memorable storm for New England.

As I noted,  this storm set up kind of reminds me of the incredible Blizzard of 1978. That storm killed about 100 people, dumped two to three feet of snow on southern New England, and, combined with astronomically high tides, caused one of the most destructive coastal floods in New England history. The Blizzard of 1978 also brought winds as high as 93 mph in Chatham, Mass, and 79 mph in Boston.
Coastal flooding in Marblehead, Mass during the
Blizzard of 1978. While things won't be as bad
this time, coastal flooding is a real threat
with the oncoming nor'easter in New England.  

This week's storm won't be as bad as the Blizzard of 1978. The coastal flooding, while potentially severe, probably won't be as severe as in 1978. Hurricane force gusts are possible with this upcoming storm, but they won't be quite as strong or long lasting as in 1978.

Snowfall amounts probably won't quite measure up to the 1978 disaster, but they could come close in spots.

In 1978, the warnings weren't as good with storms as they are today. In 1978, 3,500 or so motorists got trapped on Route 128 near Boston.

That this storm might not be quite as bad as 1978 shouldn't make you relax if you're in the path of this storm. This nor'easter will still probably prove to be a very dangerous and in some places destructive storm. Heed all warnings, don't go driving in this thing, and for gawd's sake if you live on the coast and they tell you to evacuate, DO IT.

The weather set-up is strikingly similar to the Blizzard of 1978. In both cases, an Alberta Clipper storm crossed (or in this case is now crossing) from the Northern Plains southeastward past the Great Lakes down to the Middle Atlantic Coast.

Once the Clipper hit the coast in 1978, and when it gets there this time, it'll transfer energy to a new storm, a nor'easter, that will strengthen explosively. Like the 1978 storm, it will move slowly northward, just off the coast of New England

Interestingly, the Blizzard of 1978 hit hardest on a Monday and Tuesday. It looks like that will happen with this one.

Things will get worse and worse as the storm moves northward. New York City and surrounding areas, could easily get a foot or more of snow out of this, with winds gusting past 35 mph causing near blizzard conditions.

Blizzard watches are flying for parts of Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts.

The blizzard watches might be expanded into parts of New Jersey and might encompass more of southern New England if future forecast models keep suggesting strong winds and heavier snow in those areas.

As is the case in all nor'easters, there's still some uncertainty to the exact track of the storm and its intensity. Slight variations can bring big changes to local forecasts.

The National Weather Service in Boston is calling this pretty much a textbook example of a major, memorable winter storm for New England. Some places could easily get more than two feet of snow out of this.

Out on the Cape and Islands, winds could easily gust to 70 mph with this thing. With the wetter snow or possibl mixed precipitation out there, there's a high potential for tree and power line damage. Winds will gust to gale force across much of southern and eastern New England.

Say the NWS forecast discussion out of Taunton.

"This looks to be a serious winter storm and travel will likely become extremely difficult to impossible with near zero visibility. Considerable blowing and drifting snow is expected.

The NWS had special warnings for mariners with this one, what with the forecasted 25-foot seas and winds gusting to near hurricane force:

"This is a dangerous and life threatening storm and mariners should return to port by Monday afternoon."

And for the coast:

"Significant coastal flood event is possible along the eastern MA coast during the early Tuesday morning and late Tuesday afternoon high tide cycle......The potential for a 3+ foot storm surge may result in moderate to isolated pockets of major coastal flooding."

Watch out places like Revere and Hull with this one!  This is the scariest aspect of this storm. According to the coastal flood watch now in effect, a few vulnerable homes could be destroyed, neighborhoods could become isolated, and authorities might order some areas evacuated.

As is always the case with severe nor'easters, there is the question of how far into northern New England the snow will get.

Certainly the snow will get much further west and north than the precipitation with Saturday's storm. Winter storm watches are up for extreme eastern New York to north of Glens Falls, the southern half of Vermont, all of New Hampshire, and much of Maine.

Again, like the Blizzard of 1978, there could be a sharp cut off between heavy and lighter snows with this. In 1978, Rutland, Vermont received 25 inches of snow, while Burlington, just 60 miles to the north, received just four inches.

It's hard to say what will happen with this one, but be prepared for snow and slow going even in northern New England later Monday night and Tuesday, just in case. It won't be as bad as southern New England, but still.

As I always say, stay tuned to later forecasts. Nor'easters, especially the epic big ones, sometimes hold surprises. Forecasters will surely be adjusting local predictions between now and the onset of this dangerous storm.

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