Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Blizzard of 2016 Really IS One For The Record Books

Near record coastal flooding in Sea Isle,
New Jersey this morning.
UPDATE, 2:15 p.m. Saturday

Boy, given the dramatic forecasts ahead of what has turned out to be the Blizzard of 2016, I didn't think this storm would overperform, but it has.

It's still snowing hard in parts of Maryland. Many forecasters said snowfall accumulation would be up to three feet in the most extreme parts of the storm.

Already, Frederick, Maryland is up to three feet or so, and it's still snowing there. (Hi, John and Laura and the kids in Frederick! Sorry/Not Sorry I'm not there to dig you out!

Other areas are over 30 inches. Maybe some places will go over 40 inches by the time this is over.

One already had as of 3 p.m. A town in West Virginia measured 40 inches of new snow, but the storm is almost over there.

As meteorologists told us well in advance, the most dangerous and overlooked by the media feature of this storm would be the coastal flooding

Those forecasts sure were right. Record and near record coastal flooding was reported along the southern half of the Jersey Shore and in Delaware. Many homes and streets were under water this morning.

There was severe flooding in places like Cape May, and Barnegat, where mandatory evacuations were under way. People were rescued from flooded houses in Ocean City.

In southern New Jersey, the flooding was worse than in Superstorm Sandy in 2012, though Sandy's flooding was worse in northern New Jersey than further south anyway. 

Renewed flooding might cause added damage this evening along the East Coast.  

The biggest surprise of the storm was New York City. We knew the forecast for that region was problematic, because different computer models had widely varying estimates for how much the city would get. 

Bus crash amid the snow in Greenwich, Ct. this morning.
The National Weather Service in New York and area meteorologists played it smart. They predicted 6 to 12 inches for the New York metro area, but made it VERY clear in their forecasts that the potential was there for much more than that.

Sure enough, New York had 14 to 16 inches of new snow by 1 p.m. today, and heavy snow will continue the rest of the day. It now looks like 24 to 30 inches is likely in the Big Apple.

All flights at Newark JFK and LaGuardia are canceled through Sunday. Not surprisingly, a travel ban has been instituted in New York. today.

The heavy snow has expanded into far southern and eastern New England, but won't make it into central and northern New England..

It's also beginning to look like eastern Pennsylvania, and not Virginia and Maryland, might end up with the highest snow totals out of this storm. I'm guessing a few spots there might go over three feet of accumulation.

More updates to follow later today and/or tomorrow, so watch back here!

PREVIOUS DISCUSSION, from 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning

As I started writing this before dawn in northwestern Vermont this morning, the sky was clear.

Storm surge flooding in Lewes, Delaware
It was a seasonably cold, calm Saturday morning in January, about zero degrees, and I can see a beautiful full moon sunset over the Adirondacks out my office window. 

Quite a contrast compared to the Blizzard of 2016 smashing the Mid-Atlantic region.

The storm is still playing out as expected. Bands of incredibly heavy snow have pushed in off the Atlantic ocean through Virginia, the Washington DC area, and on into New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

So far, nine deaths have been blamed on the storm.

As dawn broke, Washington DC had already received more than a foot of snow. Just after 6 a.m, thundersnow rattled the Nation's Capital. 

Amounts ranged up to 18 inches in some areas of North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.  And it was still snowing hard. I'm still expecting some reports of up to three feet of snow.

In Kentucky, thousands of motorists were trapped on a snow snarled Interstate 75 overnight. Many spent 10 hours or more in their cars.

It also seems the question of whether New York City would get blasted by heavy snow has been answered. It was snowing like hell there early this morning. Three inches of snow fell at LaGuardia airport in just an hour

The National Weather Service there has upped expected accumulation to 15 to 20 inches. Earlier forecasts indicated a foot or less. The storm has clearly nudged a bit further north than many had predicted.

Snow rapidly piling up on Washington DC streets early
Saturday morning via @salbal9 on Twitter
The storm is affecting points way to the south, too.  Light snow showers fell all the way south to Mobile, Alabama and the Florida panhandle. A little sleet fell in Lake City, Florida.

Tides are rising fast for the first high tide of the storm, expected around dawn today.

It will be the first of three storm surges that are sure to cause serious damage from Long Island to Virginia. Winds have already gusted as high as 85 mph on the Delmarva Penisula.

At coastal Lewes, Deleware, early this morning, winds were sustained at 59 mph, gusting to 72 mph, and there was a four-foot storm surge.

Later the tide at Lewes was up to nine feet, just under the record for the location, and still rising. The storm surge at Cape May, New Jersey was entering major flood stage by 7:30 a.m. this morning.

Many images on social media have popped up showing terrible shoreline flooding in New Jersey and Delaware.

Pretty scary! Lots of destruction.  And a sign of an awfully intense, big storm.

I'm going to take a hit from people who deride anybody who even hints global warming exists, and they will laugh at how anybody could suggest a raging blizzard could be a sign of climate change.

It's pretty much impossible to definitively blame this blizzard on global warming or say it influenced the storm. But it really is plausible global warming might have been one factor in this storm. Not the main factor, surely, but it might have given this nor'easter a boost.

An energized jet stream, linked to El Nino, and a powerful disturbance in the atmosphere the oversimplified and main reasons this storm happened.

But water temperatures just off the East Coast are warmer than normal. This nor'easter is feeding off that. Warmer water can supply more moisture to a storm than colder water, and this storm is taking full advantage of that fact.

The warm water is possibly warm in part because of global warming, so we have a wetter storm that can produce more precipitation.

You ask, but it's snowing! Snow isn't warm!

Well, yes, but global warming doesn't repeal winter. It obviously still gets cold in the winter obviously. Pretty much always will. If the warm moisture feeding off the Atlantic runs into that normal winter cold air, as it's doing now, you get these epic storms.

Again, I'll stress that a single event like a blizzard does not prove or disprove global warming. But it could well have been a factor in this mess. There would have been a big snowstorm with or without global warming, but perhaps the snow is a bit deeper because of it.

We'll argue more about that later, I'm sure. For now, we'll spend the day watching this truly epic storm.

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