NASA
NASA

Snowpocalypse 2016 Has Begun

NASA
NASA

What is sure to be remembered as the Blizzard of 2016 is in full swing across the East Coast this afternoon as the storm winds its way through the Carolinas and heads for the Atlantic Ocean, where it will rev up into a powerful nor’easter. Blizzard warnings are in effect from the Washington D.C. metro area through New York City and Long Island, and winter storm warnings stretch west all the way to the Mississippi River. Heavy snow is on its way, and the storm will likely land in the record books by the end of this weekend. 

Total forecast snowfall, in inches, from the National Weather Service as of 10:00 AM EST January 22, 2016. Image credit: NWS EDD

This is a complex storm with lots of moving parts, but the headline hazard is the extremely heavy snow getting ready to bury communities from Virginia to New York. A foot or more of snow is likely from Virginia to New Jersey, with 2 to 3 feet possible in western/northern Virginia and throughout the Washington D.C. area. New York City and its suburbs will be on the northern edge of the storm, where snowfall totals are a little more uncertain, but forecasters seem confident in predicting 12 to 18 inches of snow in and around the country’s most populous city.

Snow has begun to fall in Washington D.C., and it should descend in the evening hours in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and reach New York City overnight on Friday. The snow will end on Saturday night and Sunday morning from south to north.

Not only are we dealing with heavy snow, but the wind will play a major role in this storm as we head into Friday night and Saturday morning. A blizzard warning is in effect for the cities lining Interstate 95 from northern Virginia through New York City in anticipation of strong winds and blowing snow leading to whiteout conditions. A blizzard is defined as 35+ mph winds creating blowing snow that limits visibility to one-quarter of a mile for at least three hours, creating a life-threatening, highly disorienting whiteout.

The strong winds will also coincide with a full moon, so high tides are expected to run 2 to 4 feet above average. Coastal flooding is a real concern for coastal communities in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, so if you live along the coast, prepare for flooding on top of wintry precipitation and very strong winds.

Total forecast ice accretion, in inches, from the National Weather Service as of 11:00 AM EST January 22, 2016. Image credit: NWS EDD

Snow isn’t the only concern with this storm. Warmer air along the southern edge of the low-pressure system is leading to an icy mess across the Carolinas today. The snow is mixing with freezing rain and sleet (ice pellets) in northern North Carolina, which is compacting the snow into a dangerous concoction of partially frozen slush, and freezing rain is entombing parts of North and South Carolina with a thick crust of solid ice. Some communities along Interstate 85 from Greenville, South Carolina, through Raleigh, North Carolina—including Charlotte—could see a half-inch to an inch of ice from freezing rain, which has the potential to cause extreme damage. Significant tree damage and power outages are likely in towns that see major ice accretion.

The weather models have done an excellent job with this storm, locking in on the greatest hazards nearly a week ago, giving forecasters confidence to warn the public well ahead of time. This is one storm where nobody can honestly claim they were taken off guard. The models have gone so far as to predict extreme amounts of snow in the Washington D.C. area, in particular—so much so that the city could rival its all-time snowfall record if the storm lives up to what the models show could happen.

The most snow ever recorded in one storm in Washington D.C. was 28 inches back in January 1922 during the Knickerbocker blizzard. The city’s official recording station is now located at Reagan National Airport just across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, and if that station records more than 20 inches of snow, it will claim the second spot on the city’s list of biggest snowstorms. Washington D.C.’s suburbs often get much more snow, and the biggest storm ever recorded at Dulles International Airport—located in suburban Virginia about 25 miles west of the city—was 32 inches back in February 2010. It’s unlikely that Dulles Airport will see its heaviest snow ever recorded, but it’s possible that this could be its second largest on record. 

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Britain Is in the Midst of a Rare ‘Wind Drought’
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iStock

Generating renewable energy in Britain is a little less than a breeze these days: A “wind drought” is halting the country’s wind turbines.

This month’s wind energy output is down 40 percent from the same time last year, New Scientist reports. On average, about 15 percent of Britain’s electricity comes from wind power. Data starting from July 1 of this year put the monthly average closer to 6.9 percent. Last month, turbines were producing less than 2 percent of Britain’s electricity—the lowest output in two years.

That’s with even more wind turbines being installed over the course of the past year, New Scientist says. The data aren’t entirely surprising, though. The jet stream tends to make the UK’s weather drier and calmer during the summer and wetter and stormier during the winter. But the high pressure the jet stream has brought with it this year has been unusually prolonged, scientists say.

“It’s like a lid, it keeps everything still,” UK Met Office spokesperson Grahame Madge told New Scientist. “From the forecast looking out over the next couple of weeks, there doesn’t seem to be any significant change on the way.”

The wind drought shouldn’t cause too many problems in the short term. Electricity demand is low during the summer (very few British homes have air conditioning), and the country’s been able to compensate for the lack of wind by burning more natural gas. If the wind drought continues to persist, though, UK residents may begin to see an increase in utility fees. Natural gas prices have already risen with the increased demand.

“As we continue to transition to a low-carbon energy system, managing the intermittency of renewable power an important role in balancing supply and demand,” a National Grid spokesperson told New Scientist. “However, we have planned for these changes and [are] ready to play our part.”

The wind drought comes about eight years after British politicians vowed to reduce the UK's dependence on fossil fuels. Last year was the first year that electricity generated from low-carbon energy sources like solar power, wind power, and nuclear power outpaced high-carbon energy sources like coal and natural gas. This summer’s wind drought may make it difficult to improve on last year’s numbers.

[h/t New Scientist]

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Drought Reveals Ancient Sites in Scotland That Can Only Be Spotted From the Air
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iStock

Typically rainy Scotland is in the middle of an unusually dry summer—and local archaeologists are taking advantage of it. As the BBC reports, the drought has revealed ancient sites, including Roman camps and Iron Age graves, that have been hidden by farm soil for years.

Historic Environment Scotland has been conducting aerial surveys of the country's landscape since the 1930s, but it's in seasons like this, when the crops recede during dry weather, that the buried remains of ancient structures are easiest to spot. Conditions this summer have been the best since 1976 for documenting archaeological sites from the sky.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

The crescent-shaped crop mark in the photo above indicates a souterrain, or underground passageway, that was built in the Scottish Borders during the Iron Age. The surveyors also found remains of a Roman temporary camp, marked by straight lines in the landscape, built in modern-day Lyne—an area south of Edinburgh already known to have housed a complex of Roman camps and forts.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

In the image below you'll see four small ditches—three circles and one square—that were likely used as burial sites during the Iron Age. When crops are planted over an ancient ditch, they have more water and nutrients to feed on, which helps them grow taller and greener. Such crops are especially visible during a drought when the surrounding vegetation is sparse and brown.

Aerial view of field.
Historic Environment Scotland

Historic Environment Scotland has a team of aerial surveyors trained to spot the clues: To date, they've discovered more than 9000 archaeological sites from the air. HSE plans to continue scoping out new areas of interest as long as the dry spell lasts.

It's not just in Scotland that long-hidden settlements are coming to light: similar aerial surveys in Wales are finding them too.

[h/t BBC]

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