December 26, 2010


Narragansett, RI at 1:15 PM December 26th, Courtesy of Neil Stuart

Nothing really exceptional during the next few days around here weatherwise (except for some strong winds today!), so I thought I might comment on the active weather on the U.S. East Coast...a Nor'easter or Northeaster as the locals like to call them.

The greater winter storms of the U.S. East Coast are called Nor'easters because of two reasons: first, they move up the coast to the northeast, and secondly, because as the low moves up the coast the winds hitting the coastal zone is FROM the northeast. Nor'easters bring strong winds and heavy precipitation to the coastal zone and during winter can be associated with heavy snow and blizzard conditions. The approach of the current storm resulted in pre-emptive cancellations of hundreds of flights yesterday and particularly today.

Above is a recent surface chart for the East Coast. The low center is off of Cape Hatteras and the precipitation shield has spread from North Carolina into New England. See how useful a coastal radar is, and how outrageous it has been that we haven't had one!

And here is the infrared satellite picture. You can see the hook shape associated with the circulation of the storm.

Computer models are suggesting the storm will strengthen and move is the predicted pressure and precipitation pattern later tomorrow AM. Lots of isobars, which mean large pressure differences and wind. The winds rotate counterclockwise around the low and are roughly parallel to the very strong NE winds will hit the NY metro area and N. England. Cold air is pushing south in this flow and heavy snow and strong winds will be experienced. Often the snow is enhanced in narrow bands, the position and intensity of which are very hard to predict.

LaGuardia Airport is now stopping planes from taking off and many flights in regional airports have been closed. Winds are now gusting to 20-30 mph at many locations and it will get much worse. This is fairly early for such a major coastal snowstorm, and the season extends in March.

Northeasters, like our coastal storms (which also move to the NE), are extratropical cyclones, dependent on horizontal temperature gradients for their energy. Northeasters can derive energy from the huge temperature differences between the cold air of the interior and the warm Gulf Stream offshore. The movie, the Perfect Storm, was about a Nor'Easter, back around Halloween of 1991. If you want a laugh check out the section of that movie with the meteorologist looking at the satellite picture, shaking in expectation--"oh my God!, you can be a meteorologist for decades and now see something like this" or something like that. And then the actor points to the wrong thing on the wrong satellite picture.... Want to see a bit of this? Go to around 54 seconds and play:

(sorry...viewing the wacky and wrong stuff about weathermen in movies is an evil pleasure for me)

Finally, it DOES look we will cool down midweek and there is a chance of some lowland snow showers. Right now the set-up is not ideal for anything don't get too excited. Lots of snow in the mountains though...


  1. White Christmas in Atlanta was the big news of the east coast!

  2. Even for how much I like NW windstorms, I think NorEasters are cooler, but not better. Pardon the pun.

    After a decent storm the next couple days, it looks like a trend towards a dreaded blocking pattern. Come on La Nina, bust that down!

  3. Thanks Cliff! Looks like this will be a good one. One wonders how the early settlers dealt with the weather extremes of the East Coast.

  4. Is any of the this nor'easter related to the system that soaked the westcoast last week or so?

  5. As I was reading today's blog posting, and listening to the wind howl outside, I heard this song on KBCS for the first time. Thought you would appreciate this serendipitous discovery.

    I love reading your blog and listening to your Friday reports on KUOW. Thank you so much!

  6. Evidence once again that my particular micro-climate is a world apart from yours, Cliff. If you have the good fortune (ahem!) to live in the northeastern realms of Whatcom County, the term "northeaster" would be part of your everyday vernacular. Ask me how I know!

  7. Cliff, the NWS RADAR composite reflectivity around Sandy Hook NJ at 7PM PST is incredible. Extremely tight!

  8. We moved back to Tacoma from NW CT, called friends there tonight. Since we used to ski from our house there, great to hear that they're getting up to 2 feet of snow. They've had several lousy winters in a row, so nice to see them getting some powder. And, of course, our winter here has been terrific for skiing so far.

  9. RE: busting the weather men in the movies.

    I am an ornithologist and my evil pleasure is busting movies for playing the songs of birds that would never be found in the region of the world where the movie is set. A very high percentage of movies commits this ornithological sin.

    If there was a movie with lots of weathermen and lots of bird songs on the soundtrack we could have a rompin' good time together!

  10. j collin asks a great question. Generalizing it, have you ever addressed whether and how our weather is connected to east coast weather? My mom lives in upstate NY and she swears that three days after I tell her we have a run of bad weather, she gets one. I don't think the connection is nearly that clear cut, but I do wonder whether our storms influence east coast weather at all.

  11. Thanks, Cliff! I spent 15 minutes looking for good info on this storm (my hometown is within its track) and low and behold, the best info was right here!

  12. I notice that the NY Times thought that winds "gusting up to 40 mph" were worthy of front page news.

    Gusts up to 40 barely make the weather forecasts up here in the islands.

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  14. Well said, Cliff, as always. Logical and coherent in a world that seems to abhor logic and coherency.

    But your voice alone will probably not make this shift. What action steps can your readers take to complain/stir the pot/interrupt the prevailing thought stream? Write letters? To whom? Call?

    How can we help?

  15. Christopher, 40 miles an hour winds, a foot of snow, and temperatures in the teens are very much worthy of news on or off the islands. If you've experienced that, you won't forget it soon.

  16. Check out this amazing timelapse video of the heavy snow accumulations in Belmar, NJ:

    Over a 20 hour period, more than 30 inches of snow piled up on this guy's patio table--this video compresses the blizzard into 40 seconds!


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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