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

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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.

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Even in Real Time, the Northern Lights Look Like a Beautiful Timelapse Video
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Nothing compares to seeing the Northern Lights in person, but this video shared by The Kid Should See This is a pretty decent substitute. Though it may look like a timelapse, the footage hasn’t been altered or sped up at all. The undulating green lights you see below are what the aurora borealis looks like in real time.

Astro-photographer Kwon O Chul captured the footage of the meteorological phenomenon in Canada’s Northwest Territories in March 2013. The setting, the Aurora Village in Yellowknife, is a popular destination for tourists coming to see the Northern Lights up close. In the video, you can see how the camp’s glowing teepees complement the colorful ribbon of lights above.

Even if you plan your Northern Lights sightseeing trip perfectly, it’s impossible to guarantee that you’ll get a clear view of the aurora borealis on any given night, since factors like solar activity and weather conditions affect the light show’s visibility. But if you want to know what to expect when the lights are at their peak, take a look at the clip below.

You can check out more of Kwon O Chul's photography on Facebook.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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Alaska Got 15 Inches of Snow in 90 Minutes Last Week
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Alaska is obviously no stranger to snow, but this month's white weather will likely go down in the state's record books. As The Weather Channel reports, Thompson Pass—a 2805-foot-high area in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains—received a whopping 15 inches of powder in just 90 minutes on Wednesday, December 6.

Thompson Pass sits just outside of Valdez, a tiny port city on Alaska’s south coast. Located along the Gulf of Alaska, Valdez is perhaps best known for the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and for its rich Gold Rush history. Today, it’s important for commerce, since it’s the northernmost ice-free port in North America. But ice-free doesn't mean blizzard-free: The city is regularly cited as one of the snowiest places in the U.S., if not the snowiest. On average, locals can expect to see (and smell) 300 or more inches of frozen precipitation per year. As for Thompson Pass, it very often receives more than 700 inches of the wet stuff in a year.

Still, Mother Nature truly outdid herself on December 6, when Thompson Pass was slammed with what weather historian Christopher Burt deemed to be one of modern history’s most intense snowfalls. By the storm’s end, 40 inches of heavy snow had accumulated in just 12 hours, according to The Washington Post.

Who angered the winter weather gods? Or, more scientifically speaking, which atmospheric conditions led to the storm? According to experts, a stream of warm water vapor from the Pacific Ocean hit Alaska’s coast, traveling through an aerial channel known as an “atmospheric river.” When atmospheric rivers hit land, they release this water vapor as either rain or snow, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Intensifying the phenomenon was the North American Winter Dipole, which The Washington Post’s Jason Samenow described as a “fancy term to describe abnormally warm conditions in the West and cold conditions in the East.”

"Under such a pattern, the jet stream, the super highway for storms that divides cold and warm air, surges north in the western half of the nation, and crashes south in the eastern half,” Samenow said.

Valdez residents are accustomed to snow, but last week's storm was particularly challenging for townspeople. An avalanche buried Richardson Highway, the city’s only overland route that leads in and out of town. It reopened on Thursday, December 7, according to The Cordova Times, but driving conditions were poor.

While extreme, the Thompson Pass blizzard might not be history's weirdest snowfall. For example, arid countries like Kuwait and Iraq have experienced snow. In January 1887, 15-inch snowflakes were reportedly spotted at Montana’s Fort Keogh. And in 1921, over six feet of snow fell between April 14 and April 15 in Silver Lake, Colorado—the most snow to ever fall in a 24-hour period in the U.S.

[h/t The Weather Channel]

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