Blizzard blasts coastal cities from Va. to Mass.
Thundersnow strikes New York City
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).
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.
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).
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.
WINDS A MAJOR FACTOR TOO
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.
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.
| December 27, 2010; 1:15 PM ET
Categories: Freedman, Latest, News & Notes, Recaps, U.S. Weather, Winter Storms
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