Northeast U.S. digs out from yet another history-making snowstorm

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 04:53 PM GMT am 28. Dezember 2010

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The remarkable Post-Christmas blizzard of 2010 has ended for the United States, as the storm has trekked northeastward into Canada. The blizzard dropped epic amounts of snow during its rampage up the U.S. Northeast coast Sunday and Monday, with an incredible 32" falling in Rahway, New Jersey, about 15 miles southwest of New York City. The highest populated areas of New Jersey received over two feet of snow, including the Newark Airport, which received 24.1". Snowfall amounts were slightly lower across New York City. The blizzard of 2010 dumped 20.0" inches on New York City's Central Park, making it the 6th largest snowstorm for the city in recorded history, and the second top-ten snowstorm this year.


Figure 1. Scene from Brooklyn, New York after the Post-Christmas blizzard of 2010. Image credit: Wunderphotographer AK2NY.

Remarkably, New York City has had four of its top-ten snowfalls in the past decade (highlighted in the list below.) According to the National Weather Service, the top ten snowstorms on record for New York City's Central Park since 1869 should now read:

1) 26.9" Feb 11-12, 2006
2) 26.4" Dec 26-27, 1947
3) 21.0" Mar 12-14, 1888
4) 20.8" Feb 25-26, 2010
5) 20.2" Jan 7-8, 1996
6) 20.0" Dec 26-27, 2010
7) 19.8" Feb 16-17, 2003
8) 18.1" Mar 7-8, 1941
9) 17.7" Feb 5-7, 1978
10) 17.6" Feb 11-12, 1983

Newark's 24.2" was one of that city's top-ten snowstorms of all-time, and the 20.1" that fell on Atlantic City, NJ was the city's second largest snowfall in history. Atlantic City's three biggest snowstorms have all occurred in the past ten years:

1) 21.6" Feb 15-18, 2003
2) 20.1" Dec 26-27, 2010
3) 18.2" Feb 5-6, 2010

Philadelphia, PA picked up 12.4", the city's fourth one-foot plus snowstorm in just over a year--a remarkable string of storms, considering the city has had just 24 such snowfalls in history, since 1884. According to phillyweather.net, the latest snowstorm brought Philadelphia's 2010 snowfall for the calendar year to 67.3", breaking the mark for snowiest year ever (previous record: 57.0" in 1978.)

The 18.2" that fell at Boston's Logan International Airport made the storm Boston's 8th biggest in history:

1) 27.6" Feb 17-18, 2003
2) 27.1" Feb 6-7, 1978
3) 26.3" Feb 24-28, 1969
4) 25.4" Apr 1, 1997
5) 19.8" Mar 3-5, 1960
6) 19.4" Feb 16-17, 1958
7) 18.7" Feb 8-10, 1994
8) 18.2" Dec 26-27, 2010
8) 18.2" Jan 7-8, 1996
10) 17.3" Feb 5-7, 1920

Some selected city snowfall amounts for the December 26-27, 2010 storm:

Rahway, NJ 32.0"
Great Kills, NY 29.0"
Piermont, NH 25.0"
Newark, NJ 24.2"
Landgrove, VT 21.0"
Atlantic City, NJ 20.1"
NYC Central Park, NY 20.0"
Boston, MA 18.2"
Ocean City, MD 13.5"
Philadelphia, PA 12.4"
East Providence, RI 10.0"
Danbury, CT 11.1"
Augusta, ME 15.0"
Dover, DE 9.0"
Asheville, NC 9.0"
Bridgeport, CT 8.0"
Huntsville, AL 6.0"
Chattanooga, TN 3.0"

There's a great 40-second time-lapse video of 32 inches of snow accumulating at Belmar, NJ.


Figure 2. The annual average number of snowstorms with a 6 inch (15.2 cm) or greater accumulation, from the years 1901 - 2001. A value of 0.1 means an average of one 6+ inch snowstorm every ten years. Image credit: Changnon, S.A., D. Changnon, and T.R. Karl, 2006, Temporal and Spatial Characteristics of Snowstorms in the Contiguous United States, J. Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 45, 8, pp. 1141-1155, DOI: 10.1175/JAM2395.1.

An unusual number of top-ten snowstorms for the Northeast in recent years
The Northeast has seen an inordinate number of top-ten snowstorms in the past ten years, raising the question of whether this is due to random chance or a change in the climate. A study by Houston and Changnon (2009) on the top ten heaviest snows on record for each of 121 major U.S. cities showed no upward or downward trend in these very heaviest snowstorms during the period 1948 - 2001. It would be interesting to see if they repeated their study using data from the past decade if the answer would change. As I stated in my blog post, The United States of Snow in February, bigger snowstorms are not an indication that global warming is not occurring. The old adage, "it's too cold to snow", has some truth to it, and there is research supporting the idea that the average climate in the U.S. is colder than optimal to support the heaviest snowstorms. For example, Changnon et al. (2006) found that for the contiguous U.S. between 1900 - 2001, 61% - 80% of all heavy snowstorms of 6+ inches occurred during winters with above normal temperatures. The authors also found that 61% - 85% of all heavy snowstorms of 6+ inches occurred during winters that were wetter than average. The authors conclude, "a future with wetter and warmer winters, which is one outcome expected (National Assessment Synthesis Team 2001), will bring more heavy snowstorms of 6+ inches than in 1901 - 2000." The authors found that over the U.S. as a whole, there had been a slight but significant increase in heavy snowstorms of 6+ inches than in 1901 - 2000. If the climate continues to warm, we should expect an increase in heavy snow events for a few decades, until the climate grows so warm that we pass the point where winter temperatures are at the optimum for heavy snow events.

I've done some other posts of interest I've done on snow and climate change over the past year:

Hot Arctic-Cold Continents Pattern is back (December 2010)
The future of intense winter storms (March 2010)
Heavy snowfall in a warming world (February 2010)

Jeff Masters

12-27-10 BLIZZARD WILDWOOD NJ (SHEPPARD)
DUDE WHERE'S MY TRUCK
12-27-10 BLIZZARD WILDWOOD NJ
smart,,,, (brooklyn39)
smart,,,,
Holly Jolly Christmas (jerseyshoretoo)
Our first snow of the season.
Holly Jolly Christmas

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Quoting hurricane23:


It does look like more colder weather for the second week of 2011, if the GFS is right. Of course, it's still pretty far out in time, but looks like a negative NAO pattern once again. The Climate Prediction Center stated in their December update that in the Jan-Mar following a highly negative NAO, 48% of those years the NAO remained mostly negative in the Jan-Mar period, which is higher than if it was a purely random signal (33%). Also, the long-range CFS model is indicating below normal temps for South Florida in January, followed by near normal in Feb and Mar. The CFS indicated below normal temps for December, which as we know verified! We'll see.

Adrian


Hi Adrian,

Happy holiday's! I am not happy to see that the GFS is hinting at another cold period coming starting next weekend. I don't think I've ever seen as much frost as I saw this morning. Also this pattern coming is very favorable for more blockbuster storms for the east. So get ready as we a get a break now but there are signs of major storms accompanied by very cold air diving back south again.
Member Since: November 4, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6577
31. rlk
I wonder how much of the increase in major snow events is real and how much is due to possible changes in measurement practices.

The current practice is to measure every 6 hours and clean off the board. Has that always been the practice, or were earlier storms simply measured at the end (which would yield substantially greater snowfall amounts)?

For example, the #1 storm on record in Boston (Feb. 2003), with 27.5" of snow, never had a snow depth greater than 19" at Logan (although there's a lot of suspicion that that was measured incorrectly -- it was much higher than anything else), and the #3 storm (April 1997) never had a snow depth greater than 21".
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I dont understand the expectations for "mildness" in "warming" - Global Warming specifically and climate destabilization.

"Mildness" would imply more and/or a constant stability - somethign that doesn't even seem reasonable in this case.
Member Since: Mai 22, 2006 Posts: 188 Comments: 24743
Oh, and here is what last December, with the same pattern as this year, looked like (the U.S. actually hasn't been as cold this year; it has been warmer than normal in the western half of the country; the massive snows that you have heard about there occurred because it was still cold enough (in the mountains) while extreme precipitation, in excess of 20 inches of liquid, fell):



Of course, this December will probably be cooler globally because of a La Nina instead of an El Nino; also, even if global temperatures rose by 7 degrees and the exact same pattern as December 2009 occurred, there would STILL be areas that were colder than normal; in fact, I have seen daily temperature anomalies in excess of +/-20°C - even nearly 30°C(!) so global temperature would have to rise to truly staggering levels for there to be no more colder than normal days, relative to the currently used baseline!
Member Since: Februar 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
Quoting JRRP:
what happened with the mild winters predicted by IPCC???


Uhh, where did you hear that (specifically, the IPCC saying so)?

Also, the Arctic wasn't expected to melt the way it has for another 100 years. So it is no surprise that we are already seeing the impacts of that.

Arctic Report Card

Winter 2009-2010 showed a major new connectivity between Arctic climate and mid-latitude severe weather, compared to the past. Figure A7a shows normal early winter atmospheric conditions with low geopotential heights of constant pressure surfaces over the Arctic (purples). These fields indicate the tendency of wind patterns: winds tend to blow counter clockwise around the centers of lower heights, parallel to the height contours. In Figure A7a for example, winds tend to blow from west to east, thus separating cold arctic air masses from the regions further south.

In December 2009 (Fig. A7b) and February 2010 (Fig. A7c) we actually had a reversal of this climate pattern, with higher heights and pressures over the Arctic that eliminated the normal west-to-east jet stream winds. This allowed cold air from the Arctic to penetrate all the way into Europe, eastern China, and Washington DC. As a result, December 2009 and February 2010 exhibited extremes in both warm and cold temperatures with record-setting snow across lower latitudes. Northern Eurasia (north of 50° latitude to the Arctic coast) and North America (south of 55° latitude) were particularly cold (monthly anomalies of -2°C to -10°C). Arctic regions, on the other hand, had anomalies of +4°C to +12°C. This change in wind directions is called the Warm Arctic-Cold Continents climate pattern. The most extreme winter (December, January, February) Arctic high-pressure event in 145 years of the historical record occurred in Winter 2009-2010.


Current ice extent is about half a million square kilometers below the previous record for this time of year, and has been growing much slower than usual - during the exact same period that has seen cold over the U.S. and Europe - no coincidence there because if it is cold in one area then it must be warm elsewhere:



Indeed:



Not only are the warm anomalies more widespread, the strongest warm anomalies are stronger than the cold anomalies. thus, the global average temperature is obviously warmer than normal (which is why it is called global warming - the global average temperature rises, but not necessarily everywhere or at any one time).
Member Since: Februar 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
Quoting washingtonian115:
The northeast will have a warm up coming shortly.So when that warm weather comes the question is....Where will all that snow go?.Will it melt quickly and cuase flooding problems?,or melt very slowly?.You decide.
with a increase in temps the next 4 to 5 days with rain pushing though from late day 3 to end of day 5 followed by cool down melt will be quick

when i fine myself in that situation my first rule of thumb after a heavy snowfall is to insure catch basins on and near property which i have 9 of are clear and kept clear to allow good runoff

remember if the catch basin is outside your door you will be first to see the water rise
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Quoting calusakat:


Well, if it means having each thought or point being presented in a clear and concise format or having all those same thoughts or points presented in one big cumbersome clump.

I choose Door # 1.



Actually it is more difficult to read most double-spaced posts. I usually skip them.
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Quoting bappit:

Is double spacing all posts the new standard?


Well, if it means having each thought or point being presented in a clear and concise format or having all those same thoughts or points presented in one big cumbersome clump.

I choose Door # 1.


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24. JRRP
what happened with the mild winters predicted by IPCC???
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Quoting Smikey:
The physics support that this warm up will be brief for the East.

NINO 1+2 is getting warmer , while NINO 3 and 3.4 is staying cooler in comparison (continuation of east based La Nina pattern)

MJO close to neutral and forecasted to trend BACK to Phase 7 after its brief visit to Phase 5. (MJO in Phase 5/6 supports ridge in the east, while Phase 7/8/1 support ridge in the trough in the east)

GFS Ensemble models and the latest 12z run of the GFS are realizing this and backing off any long term pattern change. I would expect the Euro to follow suit when it gets into its most accurate time frame for mid next week(5 days out )

NAO and AO charts today from the GFS show the models correcting to lower negative values in the 7-10 day forecast.

The models continue to do very poorly in the mid to long range as I believe this set up in the overall teleconnections and players on the field has not be see in such this combination.


damn, I wish I understood that. :)
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Someone posted a question a few blogs ago about when the sun rises. They noticed that what they were seeing did not jive with what they remembered. I forget the specific question, but this seemed interesting.

The winter solstice is, of course, the shortest day of the year. But if you watch the sun carefully, you’ll notice something odd: The solstice is neither the day with the latest sunrise (that’s two weeks later) nor the one with the earliest sunset (two weeks before).

From Equation: Sync Up with Sunrise
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The northeast will have a warm up coming shortly.So when that warm weather comes the question is....Where will all that snow go?.Will it melt quickly and cuase flooding problems?,or melt very slowly?.You decide.
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Quoting Smikey:
The physics support that this warm up will be brief for the East.

NINO 1+2 is getting warmer , while NINO 3 and 3.4 is staying cooler in comparison (continuation of east based La Nina pattern)

MJO close to neutral and forecasted to trend BACK to Phase 7 after its brief visit to Phase 5. (MJO in Phase 5/6 supports ridge in the east, while Phase 7/8/1 support ridge in the trough in the east)

GFS Ensemble models and the latest 12z run of the GFS are realizing this and backing off any long term pattern change. I would expect the Euro to follow suit when it gets into its most accurate time frame for mid next week(5 days out )

NAO and AO charts today from the GFS show the models correcting to lower negative values in the 7-10 day forecast.

The models continue to do very poorly in the mid to long range as I believe this set up in the overall teleconnections and players on the field has not be see in such this combination.

Is double spacing all posts the new standard?
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Thanks Dr. Masters,
Philly's 4th 1' storm in just over a year.Amazing.
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Interesting using snowfall totals as guidance or insight to overall climate trends (local or otherwise) Snow fall totals highly fluctuate dramatically at the local level, prone to recording errors, and movement of points of measurement.

This storm was a perfect example of why it would be risky to use snowfall totals as any indication in long terms trends, as only 20 miles separated what was historic snow totals, from below average snow totals. Did the climate change in 20 miles?

Far better measuring data set would be to use lowest low pressures observed in storms over the NE over the last 50 or so years. I need to find that data…
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Quoting Jeff9641:
Have a strong feeling that another is brewing either later next week or the following week as the Eastern US appears to heading back into the deep freeze in 10 to 12 days if the GFS is to be believed. Also the pattern coming is favoring more big storms for the east. As soon as DOC posted his blog yesterday the models began changing solutions to a similar one that we have been experiencing for a couple months now. So enjoy the warmth now because it doesn't appear to be lasting long. Here is an example below. This model is showing LIGHT SNOW for NE FL.


http://www.nco.ncep.noaa.gov/pmb/nwprod/analysis/namer/gfs/12/fp0_264.shtml


It does look like more colder weather for the second week of 2011, if the GFS is right. Of course, it's still pretty far out in time, but looks like a negative NAO pattern once again. The Climate Prediction Center stated in their December update that in the Jan-Mar following a highly negative NAO, 48% of those years the NAO remained mostly negative in the Jan-Mar period, which is higher than if it was a purely random signal (33%). Also, the long-range CFS model is indicating below normal temps for South Florida in January, followed by near normal in Feb and Mar. The CFS indicated below normal temps for December, which as we know verified! We'll see.

Adrian
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
The physics support that this warm up will be brief for the East.

NINO 1+2 is getting warmer , while NINO 3 and 3.4 is staying cooler in comparison (continuation of east based La Nina pattern)

MJO close to neutral and forecasted to trend BACK to Phase 7 after its brief visit to Phase 5. (MJO in Phase 5/6 supports ridge in the east, while Phase 7/8/1 support ridge in the trough in the east)

GFS Ensemble models and the latest 12z run of the GFS are realizing this and backing off any long term pattern change. I would expect the Euro to follow suit when it gets into its most accurate time frame for mid next week(5 days out )

NAO and AO charts today from the GFS show the models correcting to lower negative values in the 7-10 day forecast.

The models continue to do very poorly in the mid to long range as I believe this set up in the overall teleconnections and players on the field has not be see in such this combination.
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Great update. Quite the storm!
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Tomorrow there is the possibility of some rather severe weather in E Texas.

Should be rather limited - however - its the GoM where almost anything can happen.





DAY 1 CONVECTIVE OUTLOOK
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
0957 AM CST TUE DEC 28 2010

VALID 281630Z - 291200Z

...NO SVR TSTM AREAS FORECAST...

MOISTURE RETURN FROM WRN GULF INTO SRN PLAINS WILL CONTINUE THRU THE
FORECAST PERIOD AS A FAIRLY WEAK UPPER TROUGH SRN ROCKIES SHIFTS
EWD.

CURRENT SHALLOW CONVECTION ERN HALF OF TX WILL GRADUALLY INCREASE IN
RESPONSE TO ONGOING FAVORABLE PROCESSES BECOMING SUFFICIENTLY DEEP
ENOUGH BY TONIGHT FOR THUNDERSTORM DEVELOPMENT.

STEEPENING MID LEVEL LAPSE RATES ACCOMPANYING THE SRN ROCKIES TROUGH
WILL AID IN DEEPER CONVECTIVE DEVELOPMENT. HOWEVER VERY LIMITED
INSTABILITY AND CAPE WILL PRECLUDE A CONCERN FOR SEVERE STORMS THRU
THE PERIOD.

STRONG TROUGH WILL BE DEEPENING SEWD INTO WRN U.S. TONIGHT. RAPID
COOLING ALOFT AND STRONG LARGE SCALE FORCING WILL INCREASE THE RISK
OF A FEW LIGHTNING STRIKES...MAINLY AFTER 29/06Z SWD TO NRN CA
COAST.

..HALES/MEAD.. 12/28/2010
Member Since: Mai 22, 2006 Posts: 188 Comments: 24743
Quoting sdcbassman:
We had 18 inches of Climate Change in Princeton, NJ. We are about 45 minutes outside Philly.

The global warming is killing us here in the NE USA.

It was, indeed, quite a storm. And kudos to you for seeing the pretty obvious connection between rising atmospheric/oceanic temperatures and the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Many folks don't get it, but you clearly do, so congrats on your insight!
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Quoting lilElla:
Send that mid-section snow storm farther north! Would much rather have snow than the rain we are expecting Thur/Fri. Saturday brings the cold & frozen rain puddles. ICE will be every where!
OH NO NOT an ice-storm :O(!!!!
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We had 18 inches of Climate Change in Princeton, NJ. We are about 45 minutes outside Philly.

The global warming is killing us here in the NE USA.
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My father in law lives in Islip, LI. He experienced about 20 inches of snow, six hours of N winds of 40-50 MPH, with a peak gust of 68 MPH.

The Greater NY-NJ metro area was literally brought to a stand-still from 2 PM EST Sunday through late-afternoon on Monday.

An AMAZING BLIZZARD!!!
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Send that mid-section snow storm farther north! Would much rather have snow than the rain we are expecting Thur/Fri. Saturday brings the cold & frozen rain puddles. ICE will be every where!
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Quoting originalLT:
About 13-15" in Stamford CT. which is only 20 miles or so SW of Bridgeport Ct which received only 8". Go figure? We must have had a bit more "banding" over us.


Yeah some of these bands where convective so if you got under one of these bands then you probably had 2" to 3" an hour as opposed to 1 to 2" an hour.
Member Since: November 4, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6577
About 13-15" in Stamford CT. which is only 20 miles or so SW of Bridgeport Ct which received only 8". Go figure? We must have had a bit more "banding" over us.
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A very unusual La-Nina pattern this winter appears to be locked in across the east this winter with only minor breaks in the cold. Hopefully I'm wrong but the GFS keeps shwoing the cold returning while the Euro doesn't so this will be interesting to see what actually happens down the road.
Member Since: November 4, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6577
The next snow event is looking to occur more in the midsection though.
Member Since: Mai 22, 2006 Posts: 188 Comments: 24743
Have a strong feeling that another is brewing either later next week or the following week as the Eastern US appears to heading back into the deep freeze in 10 to 12 days if the GFS is to be believed. Also the pattern coming is favoring more big storms for the east. As soon as DOC posted his blog yesterday the models began changing solutions to a similar one that we have been experiencing for a couple months now. So enjoy the warmth now because it doesn't appear to be lasting long. Here is an example below. This model is showing LIGHT SNOW for NE FL.


http://www.nco.ncep.noaa.gov/pmb/nwprod/analysis/namer/gfs/12/fp0_264.shtml
Member Since: November 4, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 6577
Thanks, Doc!
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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