CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

About That Huge Snowstorm That Will Slam the East Coast...

Original image
Getty Images

We’re on the cusp of what could be one of the worst snowstorms to strike the U.S. East Coast in recent memory, and in many places it could be the worst on record.

The weather models have been remarkably consistent in showing a major snowstorm moving across the country and blowing up off the Mid-Atlantic coast, bringing heavy snow to everywhere from Tennessee to Rhode Island. A large area will see one to two feet of snow from this storm, including some heavily populated cities along Interstate 95 (also known as the I-95 corridor). Here’s what you can expect from what will likely go down in history as the Blizzard of 2016.

THE BIG (MESSY) PICTURE

As of today, Wednesday, January 20, we know with near 100 percent certainty that there will be a nor’easter along the East Coast this weekend and that it will produce a significant amount of snow across a widespread area. We know with increasing confidence that the bullseye for the heaviest snow will be central and western Virginia, likely extending into the Washington D.C. area and possibly areas north and east. We are fairly confident (greater than 50 percent) that the storm will bring heavy snow to the I-95 corridor, including Philadelphia, New York City, and possibly even farther north, toward Boston. We are somewhat confident (around 50 percent) that there will be an ice storm and freezing rain from northern Georgia through eastern North Carolina. However, the cutoff between snow and ice will be sharp, and we don’t know just yet where that line will be.

While we know that there’s a potential for extreme snowfall accumulations—in some cities, possibly rivaling the highest snow totals ever recorded from one storm—we still aren’t quite sure about exact accumulations. As I explained earlier this week, snow and ice totals are completely dependent upon the exact track of a nor’easter

NOAA

STORM MODELS DIFFER ON THE STORM'S PATH BUT AGREE THAT IT'LL BE BAD

Wednesday morning’s run of the GFS (American global) weather model shows the track of the nor’easter taking a more northerly route across the Mid-Atlantic. If the storm stays farther north as it heads toward the ocean, the heaviest snow totals will stay farther north, slamming the I-95 corridor from Washington to New York City. A northerly track like this would bring a major ice storm to North Carolina, with one-quarter to one-half (or more) of an inch of ice possible, in addition to several inches of snow and sleet.

On the other hand, Wednesday morning’s run of the European weather model shows a more southerly track, which would put the heaviest snows over almost the entire state of Virginia west of Williamsburg (along the coast), an area that would see one to two feet of snow, with higher totals possible. This outcome would bring a foot of snow far south into North Carolina, burying cities like Greensboro and Raleigh, pushing ice from freezing rain into the southern part of the state, including Greenville, Charlotte, and Fayetteville. The I-95 corridor through Connecticut would also stand to see around a foot of snow—or more in spots—from this outcome.

The difference between these two model outcomes—among other models—introduces uncertainty into the forecast regarding exactly who will see how much snow or ice. If you check your local news channel or National Weather Service forecast right now, don't get too attached to the predicted snow and ice totals for your location. They'll likely be different by this time tomorrow. 

WPC forecast snowfall between Wednesday evening (Jan 20) and Saturday evening (Jan 23). | Map: Dennis Mersereau

WHEN WILL IT HIT?

Above is the snowfall forecast issued earlier today by the Weather Prediction Center (WPC), a branch of the U.S. National Weather Service. This product shows their 50th percentile forecast snowfall, which means it’s what they think is most likely going to happen based on the data they had when they produced the forecast. Again, this will change with time, and it’s important to note that this forecast runs through Saturday evening, when the storm will be ongoing. Snowfall totals along I-95 will probably be higher than what the above map shows. 

The timing of both of these scenarios is about the same. The storm will move slowly, with precipitation starting on Thursday night and Friday morning in the southeast, and with snow spreading over the Mid-Atlantic on Friday. It should start snowing along the I-95 corridor on Friday evening through Saturday morning, and the entire storm will last through early Sunday morning, ending sooner from south to north.

There will be a sharp cutoff in snowfall accumulations to the north of the storm, and the cutoff between snow, freezing rain, and regular rain will be sharp on the south end of the storm. This is why the track is so important—that cutoff could mean the difference between a historic snowfall, a destructive ice event, or a wet, dreary day.

POTENTIAL WHITEOUT CONDITIONS AND POWER OUTAGES  

In addition to heavy snow, strong winds from the low-pressure system itself will create blizzard conditions along and near the coast. Blizzard conditions are possible in and around Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia during the height of the storm. A blizzard occurs when winds 35 mph or stronger create blowing snow that lowers visibility to one-quarter of a mile or less for at least three hours—in other words, whiteout conditions.

Strong winds combined with a full moon will also bring major coastal flooding to the Mid-Atlantic states, creating a storm surge several feet above high tide. Vulnerable areas along the coast will easily flood during this storm, and the wind and waves could cause major beach erosion and structural damage. Major power outages are possible due to the combination of heavy snow, strong winds, and ice from freezing rain.

Forecasters will get a better idea of what the future holds as we get closer to the storm itself, since the weather models tend to converge on what will actually happen within a day of the event. Until then, though, given the uncertainty in the models, expect snowfall and ice forecasts from your local forecasters to continuously change. 

You can prepare for the storm by adjusting your travel plans so you’re not out during the worst snow and wind. Give road crews time to clear the roads before venturing out. Make sure you have food, water, and supplies to get through an extended power outage, including blankets, candles, and batteries. Shoveling snow is an intense workout, so pace yourself, and don’t do more than you can handle.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Food
Thanks to a Wet Winter, New Zealand Faces a Potential Potato Chip Shortage
Original image
iStock

New Zealand has plenty of unique and tasty snacks, but kiwis also love potato chips. The universal comfort food is in danger Down Under, however, as an unusually wet winter has devastated the island country’s tuber crops, according to BBC News.

Twenty percent of New Zealand’s annual potato crop was wiped out from a series of major storms and floods that ravaged the nation’s North and South Islands, The Guardian reports. In some regions, up to 30 percent of potato crops were affected, with the varieties used to make chips bearing the brunt of the damage.

Potato prices spiked as farmers struggled, but the crisis—now dubbed “chipocalypse” by media outlets—didn't really make the mainstream news until supermarket chain Pak’nSave posted announcements in potato chip aisles that warned customers of a salty snack shortage until the New Year.

Pak’nSave has since rescinded this explanation, claiming instead that they made an ordering error. However, other supermarket chains say they’re working directly with potato chip suppliers to avoid any potential shortfalls, and are aware that supplies might be limited for the foreseeable future.

New Zealand’s potato farming crisis extends far beyond the snack bars at rugby matches and vending machines. Last year’s potato crops either rotted or remained un-harvested, and the ground is still too wet to plant new ones. This hurts New Zealand’s economy: The nation is the world’s ninth-largest exporter of potatoes.

Plus, potatoes “are a food staple, and this is becoming a food security issue as the effects of climate change take their toll on our potato crop,” says Chris Claridge, the chief executive of industry group Potatoes New Zealand, according to The Guardian.

In the meantime, New Zealanders are preparing to hunker down for a few long months of potential potato peril—and according to some social media users, kale chips are not a suitable alternative. “Chipocalypse” indeed.

[h/t BBC News]

Original image
Bess Lovejoy
arrow
Weird
The Legend (and Truth) of the Voodoo Priestess Who Haunts a Louisiana Swamp
Original image
Bess Lovejoy

The Manchac wetlands, about a half hour northwest of New Orleans, are thick with swamp ooze. In the summer the water is pea-green, covered in tiny leaves and crawling with insects that hide in the shadows of the ancient, ghost-gray cypress trees. The boaters who enter the swamps face two main threats, aside from sunstroke and dehydration: the alligators, who mostly lurk just out of view, and the broken logs that float through the muck, remnants of the days when the swamp was home to the now-abandoned logging town of Ruddock.

But some say that anyone entering the swamp should beware a more supernatural threat—the curse of local voodoo queen Julia Brown. Brown, sometimes also called Julie White or Julia Black, is described in local legend as a voodoo priestess who lived at the edge of the swamp and worked with residents of the town of Frenier. She was known for her charms and her curses, as well as for singing eerie songs with her guitar on her porch. One of the most memorable (and disturbing) went: "One day I’m going to die and take the whole town with me."

Back when Brown was alive at the turn of the 20th century, the towns of Ruddock, Frenier, and Napton were prosperous settlements clustered on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain, sustained by logging the centuries-old cypress trees and farming cabbages in the thick black soil. The railroad was the towns' lifeline, bringing groceries from New Orleans and hauling away the logs and cabbages as far as Chicago. They had no roads, no doctors, and no electricity, but had managed to carve out cohesive and self-reliant communities.

That all changed on September 29, 1915, when a massive hurricane swept in from the Caribbean. In Frenier, where Julia lived, the storm surge rose 13 feet, and the winds howled at 125 miles an hour. Many of the townsfolk sought refuge in the railroad depot, which collapsed and killed 25 people. Altogether, close to 300 people in Louisiana died, with almost 60 in Frenier and Ruddock alone. When the storm cleared on October 1, Frenier, Ruddock, and Napton had been entirely destroyed—homes flattened, buildings demolished, and miles of railway tracks washed away. One of the few survivors later described how he’d clung to an upturned cypress tree and shut his ears against the screams of those drowning in the swamp.

The hurricane seemed to come out of nowhere. But if you listen to the guides who take tourists into the Manchac swamp, the storm was the result of the wrath of Julia Brown. Brown, they say, laid a curse on the town because she felt taken for granted—a curse that came true when the storm swept through on the day of her funeral and killed everyone around. On certain tours, the guides take people past a run-down swamp graveyard marked "1915"—it’s a prop, but a good place to tell people that Brown’s ghost still haunts the swamp, as do the souls of those who perished in the hurricane. The legend of Julia Brown has become the area's most popular ghost story, spreading to paranormal shows and even Reddit, where some claim to have seen Brown cackling at the edge of the water.

After I visited the swamp earlier this year and heard Julia Brown's story, I got curious about separating fact from fiction. It turns out Julia Brown was a real person: Census records suggest she was born Julia Bernard in Louisiana around 1845, then married a laborer named Celestin Brown in 1880. About 20 years later, the federal government gave her husband a 40-acre homestead plot to farm, property that likely passed on to Julia after her husband’s death around 1914.

Official census and property records don’t make any mention of Brown’s voodoo work, but that's not especially surprising. A modern New Orleans voodoo priestess, Bloody Mary, told Mental Floss she has found references to a voodoo priestess or queen by the name of Brown who worked in New Orleans around the 1860s before moving out to Frenier. Mary notes that because the towns had no doctors, Brown likely served as the local healer (or traiteur, a folk healer in Louisiana tradition) and midwife, using whatever knowledge and materials she could find to care for local residents.

Brown’s song is documented, too. An oral history account from long-time area resident Helen Schlosser Burg records that "Aunt Julia Brown … always sat on her front porch and played her guitar and sang songs that she would make up. The words to one of the songs she sang said that one day, she would die and everything would die with her."

There’s even one newspaper account from 1915 that describes Brown's funeral on the day of the storm. In the words of the New Orleans Times-Picayune from October 2, 1915 (warning: offensive language ahead):

Many pranks were played by wind and tide. Negroes had gathered for miles around to attend the funeral of ‘Aunt’ Julia Brown, an old negress who was well known in that section, and was a big property owner. The funeral was scheduled … and ‘Aunt’ Julia had been placed in her casket and the casket in turn had been placed in the customary wooden box and sealed. At 4 o’clock, however, the storm had become so violent that the negroes left the house in a stampede, abandoning the corpse. The corpse was found Thursday and so was the wooden box, but the casket never has been found.

Bloody Mary, however, doesn’t think Brown laid any kind of curse on the town. "Voodoo isn’t as much about curses as it is about healing," she says. The locals she has spoken to remember Julia as a beloved local healer, not a revengeful type. In fact, Mary suggests that Julia’s song may have been more warning to the townsfolk than a curse against them. Perhaps Brown even tried to perform an anti-storm ritual and was unable to stop the hurricane before it was too late. Whatever she did, Mary says, it wasn’t out of malevolence. And if she’s still in the swamp, you have less to fear from her than from the alligators.

This story originally ran in 2016.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios