21 Jan 2016

US snowstorm: over a foot of snow for major cities in north east

Central and eastern parts of the US experienced record breaking warmth through December, with temperature records shattered.

Christmas was remarkably balmy for the eastern seaboard, with temperatures more akin to the middle of spring than the start of winter, with 17-21C widely reached.

However, a change in the weather pattern through New Year has meant that the weather has turned much more seasonable, with spring-like warmth and sunshine replaced by Arctic air and snow.

Street in winter

In fact during the next few days, a snowstorm is set to bring huge amounts of snow to major cities in the north east of the US – potentially bringing them to a complete halt, with travel chaos, loss of electricity and a threat to life.

Feet of snow in places

For the past five days, weather computer models have been eerily consistent unusually far ahead in predicting a major snowstorm to hit the north east of the US.

Whilst the occurrence of wintry weather at this time of year is normal, what is impressive is the amount of snow that is expected to fall across major cities in the north east of the country.

It has been described by some US forecasters as the perfect storm, because all of the ingredients required for such a snowstorm to take place have come together.

The snow is expected to arrive across Virginia on Friday morning, Maryland Friday evening, and New York State on Saturday morning (all local times).

Latest predictions suggest that 6-12 inches of snow could fall in New York City, 12-18 inches (possibly more) in Philadelphia and Baltimore, with as much as two feet in Washington DC.

The worst snowstorm on record for Washington DC was on 27-28 January 1922, when 28 inches – more than two feet – of snow fell.

Strong winds are likely to make conditions even worse, causing blowing snow and blizzards that severely reduce visibility. The US National Weather Service already has warnings and watches in effect.

Coastal flood risk not to be forgotten

There has been a lot of focus on the amount of snow expected to fall from the snowstorm, but it’s important not to forget the impact it will have on coastal areas in the north east of the US.

Warm coastal waters mean that sleet and rain is more likely to fall along the coastline, where winds gusting 40-60mph will bring the most dangerous threat.

Aftermath of Hurricane SandyWith a full moon and high tide this weekend, coastal areas from Maine to Virginia could experience moderate coastal flooding, with pockets of major flooding, according to the US National Weather Service.

It advises that people should be prepared to take appropriate action to protect life and property, as waves are expected to reach 15-20 feet (4.5-6 metres) high during Friday and Saturday.

Even though there will be some fine tuning of expected snowfall amounts in the next 24 hours, one thing is certain: a snowstorm will bring major disruption to an area of the US which is populated by around 40-50 million people.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the snowstorm in the coming days and posting updates on Twitter – @liamdutton

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