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Posted at 1:15 PM ET, 12/27/2010

Blizzard blasts coastal cities from Va. to Mass.

By Andrew Freedman

Thundersnow strikes New York City

GOES satellite imagery of the New England storm Monday morning. Source: NASA.

The powerful nor'easter that largely bypassed Washington, D.C. delivered one of the most punishing blows in years to many coastal locations from southeastern Virginia and Maryland to coastal New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Atlantic City, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston all received a foot or more of snow (see list of East Coast snow totals).

Radar image of snow bands slamming New York City and New Jersey Sunday night. Yellow shades indicate very heavy snow. Source: Weather Underground

Snowfall amounts were most impressive in parts of New Jersey, where a persistent band of very heavy snow set up late Sunday afternoon and barely budged for much of the night. The result: around two feet in many parts of the "Garden State."

One of the challenges of forecasting snowstorms like this is pinpointing the locations of small-scale intense snow bands, known more formally as "mesoscale bands" because they occur on such a small-scale, ahead of time. This storm illustrated the effects that these bands can have, with dramatically higher snowfall totals near New York City compared with much of Long Island and Connecticut. Although additional reports may come in showing even greater snowfall totals elsewhere, the jackpot appears to have fallen in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, an inner New York suburb near Giants stadium.

GOES-13 water vapor images showing development of comma head & dry slot with the storm. Look closely for the blue marks appearing above NYC, indicating lightning strikes. Also note the drier air that was entrained over eastern Ma., holding down snowfall accumulations there a bit. Source: CIMSS.

The city itself received more than a foot of snow. Lightning and thunder was observed in Manhattan and other areas in the northeast along with the snow. Lightning strikes were confirmed by on the ground video reports and this satellite loop with lightning data from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In the dramatic footage below, shot by an eyewitness in New York City, note the thunder and lightning that strikes about 1 minute and 54 seconds into the video. You'll also see the nearly white-out conditions at times. (See also, another video documentary from NYC capturing thundersnow between about 3:00 and 3:15).

Snowfall amounts in De., southeast Pa. and through central New Jersey. Note the De. beaches received more than 1 foot of snow. Source: National Weather Service.

Farther to the northeast, it was still snowing this morning in Massachusetts, where East Boston had already picked up 16.5 inches, with amounts generally in the 12 to 16 inch range in eastern Mass., although blowing and drifting was making accurate snowfall measurements extremely difficult.

Washington had always been forecast to be on the western periphery of the accumulating snow, but the sharp gradient in snowfall amounts extended northeastward as well. Whereas many nor'easters dump the greatest snowfall amounts over inland areas, this time the heaviest snowfall occurred along and just to the west of the immediate shoreline. For example, Atlantic City, NJ received 19 inches and Somerset 22.5, but only a foot fell in Philadelphia, Pa., and far less in that city's inner-western suburbs. The ultra sharp gradient can be seen in this final snowfall forecast map from the National Weather Service forecast office in Mount Holly, NJ.


The storm's central pressure sunk as low as 963 mb (28.42"), equivalent to a category 2 or 3 hurricane. Because the low pressure center deepened so rapidly, a meteorological phenomenon known as "bombogenesis," winds were extremely strong across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

pressure-falls-new england.gif
3-Hour pressure tendency chart showing sharp pressure falls off the coast of Long Island through southeast Maine. The darkest pink shades indicate where pressures were falling at a rate of more than 2 mb/hour between 4 and 7 p.m. last night.

Wellfleet, Mass., on the outer portion of Cape Cod, recorded a wind gust to 80 miles per hour, with Orleans, Mass. a close runner-up with a gust to 79 mph. The intense winds were not limited to Cape Cod, either. White Plains, New York gusted to 67 mph, and La Guardia, JFK, and Newark airports all reported gusts around 50 mph with tropical storm force sustained winds (39mph or greater). The high winds also helped cause coastal flooding in Massachusetts, but the short duration of the storm helped prevent extensive damage on the scale of past storms, such as the infamous Blizzard of 1978.

The combination of the heavy snow and high winds created official blizzard conditions in New York, which are a rarity in the northeast. To get an official "blizzard", there needs to be a combination of sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35mph or greater, combined with visibility of a quarter-mile or less - all for three consecutive hours or more.

Looking at the observations from La Guardia Airport last night; that came to fruition. La Guardia also set a new record daily maximum snowfall for the date with 10.2 inches on December 26, breaking the old record of 4.1 in. set in 1969.

Other daily snowfall records also fell in Norfolk, Wallops Island, and Richmond, Va.

Here's how the New York Times described described the conditions in the city during the height of the storm:

Everywhere, the winds whispered and moaned in their secret Ice Age language. The blizzard spawned lightning flashes and thunder. Yet the sounds of the city were strangely muffled and distant. Sledders, snowboarders, hikers and even a few skiers were soon out, cutting fresh trails along the marbled Hudson or in the wilderness of Central Park. The surrounding skylines were lost in the whiteout, and the playing fields of the Great Lawn might have been the plains of Nebraska or a steppe.

Given the blizzard conditions, flying in or out of New York and other northeastern airports was impossible last night, and in a rare turn of events, all three of New York's major airports were shut down, and are not scheduled to reopen until later this afternoon.

The airport closures left at least two flights stranded on the tarmac, after the planes left their gates but were unable to take off due to the weather conditions. One, an El Al Airlines flight from JFK Airport to Tel Aviv, was delayed on the tarmac for about nine hours, according to CNN. Another, according to Twitter reports and CNN, was a Virgin Atlantic flight to London, which sat for more than four hours before being towed back to the crowded terminal.

"What happened was they boarded us, de-iced us, taxied us ... We were ready to take off, but JFK closed when we were finally able to take off," an El Al passenger told CNN.

And according to Gothamist, it wasn't just airline passengers that got stuck. New York subway passengers were stranded on a train for at least six hours before being rescued after the third rail lost power during the height of the storm last night. There were also numerous reports of snow accumulating inside New York subway stations.

By Andrew Freedman  | December 27, 2010; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  Freedman, Latest, News & Notes, Recaps, U.S. Weather, Winter Storms  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Weather Checker: "False Alarmageddon"?
Next: Incredible time lapse video of New Jersey snow


If I was to grade you on your snow forecasting, it would be an A+. Why? Because it wasn't your fault that this storm was hard to predict and besides that, you even mentioned that there's a high probability of getting nada (which is what we ended up with.) Some of the people that comment on this blog have the biggest sense of entitlement I've EVER seen. They expect that you will give them a 100% accurate forecast whenever THEY want. Well I've got a news for them: CWG worked as hard as possible, day and night, and ON CHRISTMAS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD and you dare criticize them?!

Anyway, like I said, A+ for CWG!!

Posted by: BobMiller2 | December 27, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Nice summary Andrew, thx.

Posted by: Ian-CapitalWeatherGang | December 27, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Thundersnow.
Love it.
Never get it here.

Love that water vapor sequence too.

Speaking of water vapor...we could use some. It's been a very dry December & those brutal cold winds aren't helping the garden any. Something slow, overnight while well above freezing would be best.

Posted by: FIREDRAGON47 | December 27, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

I've given it a lot of thought, and you know, meteorology is a very interesting business, isn't it? Sometimes, Mother Nature has a mind of her own, regardless of what the computer models are telling you.

Posted by: BobMiller2 | December 27, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

the nyc radar looked like bands from a hurricane coming onshore. we missed a brilliant storm. ah well. there's always 5-10 years from now...just kidding...sort of.

Posted by: swishjobs | December 27, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if it's just my computer, but has anyone else noticed that it takes FOREVER to post a comment on this website?

Posted by: BobMiller2 | December 27, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

yep, Bob, mother nature drives the scientific research which drives the computer models which drive the the end, mother nature owns.

Posted by: swishjobs | December 27, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

To: All snow lovers
From: BobMiller2

According to, we'll be in the 40s and 50s for AT LEAST the next 15 days; therefore, no snow. :(

Posted by: BobMiller2 | December 27, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Firedragon, I remember (I think I do!) thundersnow during the big February 1983 snowstorm when I lived in Rockville. It could have been another snowstorm though.

Posted by: Murre | December 27, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Just FYI, it's a balmy -14°F at the South Pole.


Posted by: BobMiller2 | December 27, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I also give CWG A+. I know that January and February weren't supposed to be very promising for us this still the case? Was this our big shot for the winter?

Posted by: manassasmissy | December 27, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I join with the other people in giving CWG an A+. I love reading the discussions and about the uncertainty.

Posted by: Murre | December 27, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse


Commenting can be slow sometimes. It's a know issue and a solution is in the pipeline--may take a bit though.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | December 27, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

**The South Pole has made it up to a scorching -13 F.

Posted by: BobMiller2 | December 27, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Jan of 1987 thunder snow big time. All the computer models and all the weather geeks get their collective butts kicked by a bunch of herding dogs and sheep in the storm prediction dept.

Get out in your world. Forget about facebook, texting, and staying in touch. Put down the PDA and take a walk and observe.

I am sure the wildlife in Central Park knew what was coming before the the weather geeks.

Now lets all get the WP to hire Maria Molina away from Fox and have her do the weather in outfits from Bebe and Agent Provocateur on live video chats. I will bet WP's website traffic goes up 10000%. Sorry Jason if you did chat in the same outfits traffic would drop by the same amount.

Posted by: sheepherder | December 27, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

The NYC area newspapers are reporting 31" of snow for Elizabeth, NJ. But I always thought Elizabeth was a dump (my friends from there will eviscerate me for saying so), so I'm not surprised.

Posted by: JerryFloyd1 | December 27, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

A+ grade for forecasting a storm, only to have nothing happen?

I need to get a job in forecasting!

Posted by: blueridgepro | December 27, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I'm pretty sure I remember thundersnow in Montgomery County during Snowmaggeddon II last February. It was easy to hear with no power in the house.

When will this wind stop????

Posted by: mdreader01 | December 27, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

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