Winter Storms Refuse to Wait for First Day of Winter
Today is the first day of winter in America. Depending on where you live, you may have assumed it had already begun.
If you live in the Northeast – or if you ever lived there – you know all about nor’easters. They are storms that impact our upper north Atlantic coast. As well as Canada’s Atlantic provinces.
They form when two different air masses join forces. They are the cold polar air mass and the warmer air over the ocean. This usually occurs between October and April when the difference in temperatures is greater.
Generally they form within 100 miles of the shore between North Carolina and Massachusetts. Then they travel north. Through the years, nor’easters have been responsible for major blizzards causing deaths, injuries and power outages.
They’ve been around for as long as anyone can remember. In fact, there’s even a reference to a “northeaster” in the New Testament book of Acts.
First Nor’easter of Season
The Northeast was slammed with its first nor’easter of the 2020-21 winter season during the first full weekend of December.
It dumped more than a foot of heavy, wet snow in parts of the area. Heavy winds and snow knocked out power for about 225,000 households in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
Paxton, Massachusetts received 12.5 inches of snow. But most of the power outages (at least 147,000) occurred in Maine. A wind gust of 73 miles per hour was recorded in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
With reduced visibilities, many New England residents were asked to stay home until plows could clear roads.
It Could Have Been Worse
Weather officials said this nor’easter could have been much worse if temperatures had been slightly lower in the early stages of the storm. Much of the initial precipitation was in the form of rain.
And speaking of worse, the Northeast was crushed with another winter storm December 16-17. It dropped more snow in parts of this region than during all of last year's winter season. Including 10.5 inches in New York City's Central Park.
In Binghamton, New York, they received nearly 40 inches of snow. Albany got 22 inches and Wellsboro, Pennsylvania got 18.8. Wind gusts were over 55 to 65 miles per hour.
Hundreds of traffic accidents, including a 66-vehicle pileup in Pennsylvania and a 27-vehicle pileup in New York, made the death toll from this storm reach at least seven. Power outages exceeded 50,000 in Virginia alone.
Prior to the most recent nor’easter in early December, the U.S. experienced a number of early “winter” storms.
The first occurred October 20-22 when a clipper-like system moved down into Montana and North Dakota from Alberta, Canada.
As it then traveled eastward, parts of Minnesota were hit with 10 inches of snow. Some 33,000 people lost power.
In addition, there were 1,100 crashes and spinouts on Minnesota roads. The Weather Channel named the storm “Abigail.”
Ice Storm Pounds Oklahoma
It didn’t take long for the second winter storm to arrive - “Billy,” as it was called by the Weather Channel, visited the Southern Great Plains October 26-28.
The storm brought heavy snow to Colorado and Kansas, which was not a big surprise. What was startling was that New Mexico and western Texas also got the heavy white stuff.
This storm proved even more treacherous in central Oklahoma. That’s where ice accumulations reached two inches.
Traffic was at a standstill in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area due to the icy buildups.
Billy Merges With Zeta
Yet another winter storm struck southern New England and upstate New York on October 30.
Before dissipating, Billy merged with the remnants of Hurricane Zeta. That storm had made landfall in Louisiana before creeping up the East Coast.
In Grafton, Massachusetts they received 6.5 inches of snow and also saw downed tree branches.
In addition, the storm resulted in numerous crashes on roads in Massachusetts. Including some serious ones.
Constance Travels From West to Midwest
Two additional winter storms preceded the nor’easter that slammed the New England area recently.
The first actually originated as a low-pressure system in the Pacific Ocean. It was eventually named “Constance” by the Weather Channel.
At first it brought winter weather conditions to the West. Then it became more organized as it moved into the Midwest.
Some areas in Constance’s path received three to five inches of snow during this mid-November storm.
The second was a late November/early December storm that brought snow to various parts of the upper Midwest.
This weather event was actually a combination of two low-pressure systems. One came from the Gulf of Mexico, while the other originated in Canada.
The southern system moved east and then northeast toward the Appalachian Mountains. The northern system moved southeast toward the Great Lakes region.
Called “Dane” by the Weather Channel, it brought snow to Toledo and Detroit. Plus Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. As well as heavy rainfall, high winds and even a tornado warning in Florida.
It’s too early to determine what kind of winter we’re going to have. But if October and November are any indication, it could be a rough one.
As always, the key is to be prepared. One way to be ready for outages that occur with winter storms is to have backup power available. Especially for your cellphone and other electronics.
A word of advice – Don’t get caught with your devices down.