Sunday, January 25, 2015

Northeast Blizzard - Will History Repeat Itself?

Blizzard warnings are in effect for Monday and Tuesday for an area stretching from northeastern New Jersey and southeastern New York through southern New England into Downeast Maine in anticipation of a major nor'easter that will rapidly intensify during the day on Monday.

Watches, warnings, and advisories as of 10:43 p.m. EST
The seeds of that storm moved through the Midwest today bringing rain and some snow and was comparatively wimpy compared to what it's expected to develop into on Monday.

Surface weather map at 7:00 p.m. EST January 25, 2015
The low in the Ohio Valley will move to and along the Appalachians early Monday, then will redevelop off of the Virgina Capes Monday afternoon and intensify rapidly.

Forecast surface map for 1:00 p.m. EST January 26, 2015

The low is expected to move northeast and stall southeast of Long Island Monday night into early Tuesday. Snow from this system will beginning by morning in southern New Jersey (possibly with a changeover to rain for a period before going back to snow), by afternoon in New York City, and by evening in Boston. Snow will continue to spread northeast through Maine on Tuesday before tapering off in most areas early Wednesday.

Forecast surface map for 7:00 a.m. EST January 27, 2015

Snowfall amounts in excess of two feet are expected from the New York City area to near Boston. Some locations within the heavy snow band could pile up as much as 30 inches of snow before the storm ends.  Snowfall rates could be 2-4 inches per hour at times, and thundersnow is a strong possibility with the heavier snow bands. If the heavy snow weren't bad enough, winds will build to sustained at 30-35 mph with gusts to 50 mph and higher later Monday, whipping the snow in to huge drifts and reducing visibility to near zero at times. Along the coast the storm will produce much higher tides than normal and coastal flooding is expected.

Expected snowfall accumulation ending 7:00 a.m. EST January 28.
This new snow will add to a snowpack that averages about 8 inches across the northeast. There was snow this weekend across much of the northeast and New England which brought 4 to 8 inches to much of the same area that is in the cross hairs of tomorrow's nor'easter.

Snowfall for the 48-hour period ending at 7:00 EST January 25, 2015

The forecast evolution of this nor'easter is similar to that of what is known as the Blizzard of '78 in the northeast. This nor'easter occurred on February 6-7, 1978 burying southern New England in 20 to 30 inches of snow, with a small area of 50+ inches of snow was reported in northern Rhode Island. This storm produced winds gusts up to 100 mph along the coast and snow drifts as high as 27 feet. High astronomical tides coincident with the strong storm winds produced damaging coastal flooding that destroyed dozens of homes. The deaths of 99 people were attributed to the massive blizzard.

Surface map for 7:00 a.m. EST February 6 and 7:00 a.m. February 7, 1978
The February 1978 storm was the worst storm in more than 100 years in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and eastern Connecticut. It was the worst storm in March 1888 for western and central Connecticut and southeastern New York., and the worst storm since December 1947 in coastal New York, Long Island, and southwestern Connecticut.

There is an entire web site dedicated to this blizzard, Along with descriptions of the blizzard's development, there are photos of the snow and storm damage and personal stories or those who lived through this storm firsthand.

The National Weather Service in Taunton, MA has a presentation online about the Blizzard of '78.

The maps and charts above credited to Kocin/Uccellini came from this presentation. Their description of this storm was published is in Northeast Snowstorms, by Paul J. Kocin and Louis W. Uccellini, American Meteorological Society (AMS), Meteorological Monograph Volume 32 Number 54 in two
volumes, 2004.


  1. History won't repeat itself. One key feature of the the northeast's Blizzard of '78 was that the snow started around 1100. Had it started before dawn, schools would have been closed. Had it started in the evening, people would have made it home. Timing was the key factor in the traffic disaster component of the storm.

    Other factors included astronomically high tides, stalling for longer than this storm is expected to, etc. so there shouldn't be any where near the loss of homes and lives along the southern New England coast.

  2. As far as impacts, this storm hopefully will not be on the same scale, but the snow and winds could be. Another factor in the devastating impacts of the February '78 storm was the fact that a big storm about 10 days earlier was poorly forecast, so people tended to disregard the forecast for this storm.

  3. In the aftermath of the storm there was a general claim that it too was poorly forecast. I knew exactly what I was doing when I put my cat outside when I left for work. The only catch was I expected to come home after a morning talk. Instead, I left around 1745 and had my all time favorite drive in the snow. The cat was not impressed.

    The earlier storm you're thinking of was on Jan 20. Both storms brought 24 hour record snowfalls in Boston. There was another storm 10 days earlier, (today is its anniversary) that brought rain to New England and a blizzard to the midwest (Cleveland had 100 mph winds and a record low air pressure).

    My account of the Feb 6th storm is at . An addendum is at and has some information about the midwest storm and how the Feb 6th storm was forecast by area TV meteorologists that was written by one of mets in the midst of it.