Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Complete Post Mortem Of The Great Blizzard of 2016

Editor's Note: I've been away for a couple days because my dad, Henry, "Red" Sutkoski, passed away Saturday, January 23, 2016 at the age of 95. 

I want to thank him for always encouraging me in any and all ways to pursue every interest that made me happy, which of course includes weather and writing. Nostrovia, dad. The latest Matt's Weather Rapport post follows:

This post-blizzard igloo in New York City was
 jokingly being advertised as a one bedroom
apartment for the low rental rate of $2,500 per month. 
It's been a few days now since the Great Blizzard of 2016 finally trudged out to sea. I've still got a few random thoughts, images and videos that made some impressions on me with this truly historic storm.

Unfortunately, the storm has killed at least 38 people, a big death toll for a modern American storm.

And that death toll might go up, as people are subject to traffic accident on icy roads, carbon monoxide poisoning in houses with snow-clogged vents, heart attacks from the exertion of snow shoveling, and possibly structural collapses from heavy snow.

Transportation is recovering but is still screwed up. The airline industry at last report is still tryin to dig out of the 12,000 or so flight cancellations that had a worldwide ripple effect.

In any event, here the are, in no particular order are some of my impressions of this storm. Also, be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post for a few choice videos of the blizzard you'll want to watch.

Stop Whining About The Forecasts:

As expected forecasts in advance of this blizzard were not perfect. They never are and nobody should expecd them to be.

Even though some parts of the blizzard surprised forecasters, the predictions days ahead of this storm were nothing short of amazing. For three days or more before the storm, meteorologists told us the areas which would get the biggest blast were Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, parts of Kentucky, the mountains of North Carolina, much of New Jersey, Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania.

Forecasts for the timing of the storm, the depths the snow would accumulate and the timing of the storm were absolutely spot on. That's an amazing job when trying to determine what a powerful nor'easter would do. And now notoriously unnpredictable nor'easters are.

The biggest surprise out of this storm was what happened around New York City, which got its biggest or second biggest snowstorm on record, depending upon where you measured. Twenty five to 20 inches in the NYC area is incredible.
True color satellite photo taken
Sunday clearly shows the snow on the ground
from the blizzard stretching between North
Carolina and southern New England. 

In the days and hours before the storm hit, the New York City metro region was always expected to be near the northern edge of the blizzard conditions.

Meteorologists knew there would be a sharp cutoff between snow measured in feet just to the south, and snow measured in a few inches or just fractions of an inch just to the north.

That sharp cutoff was expected for at least three days ahead of the storm to be near New York.

And it was. But the heavy snow enveloped the metro area, where just a short distance north up the Hudson River Valley, there wasn't much.

Official forecasts had called for six to twelve inches to accumulate in New York City, but every meteorologist I could find emphasized in their forecasts that much more could fall, given the limitations of determining in advance exactly where the heaviest snow would fall.

That means people in the New York region should have been aware before the storm that more than six inches of new snow was a possibility

For anyone loudly complaining the forecast was "wrong," take a chill pill and shut up. In meteorology, the unexpected happens sometimes. Deal with it.

The Coastal Flooding:

In the annals of forecasting this storm, another accuracy of note were the warnings, again well in advance, that the storm surge along parts of the Middle Atlantic Coast would be quite destructive.

That turned out to be true, unfortunately.
People stranded atop a car
by a storm surge Saturday in
Ocean Beach, New Jersey. 

As I noted previously, the flooding along the southern half of the New Jersey shore and in Delaware was worse than in Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Sandy focused its worst destruction on the northern half of New Jersey.

This storm attacked southern New Jersey hard, with several cities, including Lewes, Delaware and Cape May, New Jersey, reporting record high tides. 

Between the damaging storm surge and coastal floods, together with the damage and disruption of several feet of snow in a heavily populated area of the world, this storm is likely to be the first, or among the first 2016 natural disasters to cause over a billion dollars in damage.

Let's Review Record Snowfalls 

An incredible 66.1 inches of snow fell on Mount Mitchell, North Carolina during this storm, likely making it the biggest snowstorm in North Carolina history. Of that, 41 inches came on just Saturday alone.

In West Virginia, 42 inches of fresh powder fell on the community of Glengary, West Virginia.

Among the cities reporting their biggest snowstorm on record with this one are Allentown, Pennsylvania, with 31.9 inches, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 34 inches; Baltimore, 29.2 inches and Philadelphia, 25.3 inches.

Most of these cities had as much or more snow in this one storm than they do during an entire winter.

Heed The Warnings:

In the days leading up to the accurate Blizzard warnings with this storm, meteorologists, emergency managers and other public officials urged people to be off the roads by the time the storm hit.

Highways would rapidly become clogged with snow and stuck cars and trucks. The warnings said people could be stuck for many, many hours in life threatening cold and snow.

A lof of people heeded the warnings, but others didn't. A bunch of people got stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, including a bunch of Duquense college basketball players, who were out there for 30 hours.

Luckily, everyone ended up OK, especially since emergency responsders were able to get out on the highway to make sure everyone had enough gas, food and warmth to make it through the night.

The same thing happened on Interstate 75 in Kentucky, where as many as 3,000 motorists spent the night trapped in their cars. Miraculously, no serious injuries were reported there.
Things were a bit difficult on the streets of  Washintgton DC
during the height of the blizzard. 

I get it that the way the economy works these days, if truckers or freelancers in this ripoff "sharing economy" miss a day of work they miss wages or risk getting fired, no matter what the risk to the employee.

Employers ought to stop being so greedy and give workers a break if going out in the elements risks their lives.

Blizzard's Stupidest Twitterer.

All this stuff about snowbound roads and stuck motorists leads me to my award for the Stupid Twitterer Of the Blizzard Award.

Drum roll, please:

The winner is Todd Starnes!!!!

As the blizzard worsened more than many had expected in and around New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio initiated a travel ban on area roads.

De Blasio's sensible logic was that he didn't want people stuck in cars in dangerous conditions. Plus, he figured it would be easier to get the city moving again after the blizzard if snow plows could get out there without contending with thousands of stuck cars and trucks in the way of the job.

Todd Starnes, a conservative pundit who doesn't like anything a liberal does, even if it makes sense in an emergency,was outraged. OUTRAGED I say!!!!

He Tweeted that the travel ban, in which the NYPD threatened to arrest errant drivers was martial law, and "This is what life under communism looks like."

Yeah, the government was taking away the freedom for you to go out in your car and screw things up for everybody else.
The Naked Cowboy has been a fixture in Times Square
for years, and he didn't let a little blizzard prevent
him from performingn in his undies, as usual. 

The paranoid World Net Daily also accused New York of enacting martial law by what they said was ordering people to remain in their homes. Of course there was no such order.

The NYPD made it clear that, as always, everybody was free to walk the streets of New York anytime they wished, blizzard or no blizzard.

During the next blizzard, I would invite Starnes to drive to a remote location with a near empty gas tank with no warm clothes or emergency supplies in your car.

What's Next?

The Great Thaw has now settled in so the snows can start melting. Other than this blizzard, it's been a fairly mild winter, and that seems to be continuing. Higher elevations in the Appalachians are likely to hold onto this deep snow for awhile because the thaws won't be too extensive there.

In the wide swath of cities and suburbs buried by the blizzards, daily thaws are likely for the most of the next week. The good news is, it won't get extremely warm, mostly 40s by day, and many places will have a few overnight freezes to slow things down.

Even better news: Not a lot of rain is likely over the next week. Most of the blizzard zone will get a quarter inch or less of rain in the next seven days.

In the short term, at least, this means that flooding from the snow melt will be limited to streets with clogged drains, and poor drainage areas.

But beware: There's lots of snow in the Appalachians, and if there's a particularly heavy rainstorm in the coming few weeks there could be trouble.


The best time lapse video I've seen of the storm was taken by Wayne Bennett in Martinsburg, West Virginia. His camera took one photo every two minutes for 27 hours as the snow accumulated.

I love the hapless skeleton getting buried during the course of the video:

One of the most iconic videos of the blizzard is also the most adorable. Its the panda Tian Tian, absolutely loving the deep snow at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC:

Here's some scenes, given to us by Storm Chasing Video, of the record high tide in Lewes, Delaware during the storm:

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