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Blizzard Buries New England, Breaks Snowfall Records

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Millions of New Englanders woke up to a staggering amount of snow as well as coastal flooding problems on Saturday after one of the worst winter storms on record slammed the region with whiteout conditions and hurricane-force winds, dumping more than 3 feet of snow in some places.

Boston's North End neighborhood amid the snow drifts on Saturday morning.
Credit: Twitter via Matt Meister.

The storm shut down travel across the region, knocked out power to nearly 700,000 customers, stranded motorists in their vehicles on Long Island, and exceeded benchmarks set during the infamous Blizzard of 1978, which occurred 35 years ago this week.

The storm brought accumulations of at least 30 inches to five states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York.

This was by far the largest single snowstorm on record in Portland, Maine, the second-biggest snowstorm on record in Concord, N.H., the fifth-largest snowstorm on record in Boston with 24.9 inches, and the third-largest snowstorm in Worcester, Mass. A band of extraordinarily heavy snow, accompanied by lightning and thunder, dumped several inches of snow per hour across Long Island and Connecticut on Friday night, causing Connecticut to be ground zero for some of the heaviest snow totals.

Numerous locations around Connecticut, which was also hit extremely hard by a freak October blizzard in 2011, reported more than 30 inches of snow. As of 4 p.m. on Saturday, the snowfall jackpot belonged to Hamden, Conn., with an astounding 40 inches. New Haven also received 34.3 inches. The National Weather Service posted an interactive graphic containing snow and wind reports for all of New England. 

New York City narrowly escaped blizzard conditions, but still received between 8-to-12 inches of snow, with much higher amounts to the north and east of the city.

The snowy scene in Swampscott, Mass., on Saturday morning.
Credit: Robert Freedman.

This storm was noteworthy for delivering extraordinary snowfall amounts in an exceedingly short time, accompanied by near-zero visibility and winds greater than hurricane force (74 mph). The Blizzard of 1978, for example, took three days to deposit a similar amount of snow, whereas this storm dumped up to 10 inches in three hours in southern Connecticut on Friday night.

As the storm intensified rapidly, in a process known to meteorologists as "bombogenesis," it produced strong wind gusts — 82 mph in Westport, Conn., 83 mph in Cuttyhunk, Mass., and 76 mph at Boston's Logan Airport. The wind gust at Logan was one of the strongest recorded at that location in 30 years. The storm had a broad footprint, as winds exceeded 50 mph all the way south into Virginia.

The storm caused major coastal flooding along east- and north-facing shoreline locations, particularly Winthrop, and Scituate, Mass., towns that were also hit hard 35 years ago. According to local news reports, a seawall was partially breached in Scituate. Wave heights of at least 31 feet were recorded by a buoy off the coast of Cape Ann, Mass., and large waves were battering the coast on Cape Cod, as well as the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.

The storm struck just days after a report warned of the region’s growing vulnerability to such storm-surge events. The report, by the nonprofit Boston Harbor Alliance, found that coastal flooding of 5 feet above the current average high tide — similar to the surge seen during Hurricane Sandy and translating to the city’s 100-year flood level — would flood 6.6 percent of the city of Boston.

Infrared satellite image of the blizzard as it neared maximum intensity on Friday night. 
Click to enlarge the image. Credit: Facebook/Stu Ostro.

Sea levels are rising worldwide due to warming ocean temperatures, melting polar ice caps, and sinking land masses, along with other factors. Higher sea levels provide a higher launching pad for storm surges from hurricanes and nor’easters, making it possible for relatively weak storms to cause major damage.

In Boston, the top five highest storm tides, which is the combination of the tide level and storm surge, all occurred during nor’easters.

According to NOAA's Climate Extremes Index, during the cold season in the Northeast in recent years, big 24-hour precipitation events have accounted for an increasing proportion of the seasonal precipitation total. This indicates that extreme precipitation events are playing a larger role in the cold season, and these events, including this blizzard, can have major societal impacts. 

Studies have linked this trend in extreme precipitation events to manmade global warming, since warming increases atmospheric moisture. However, much of the increase in one-day extreme precipitation events during the cold season in the Northeast has taken place in the fall and early spring, rather than February.

Related Content
What You Need to See to Understand Blizzard 'Nemo'
Blizzard of 2013 Brings Another Threat: Coastal Flooding
Threat of Looming Blizzard Seen Through 6 Images
Life-Threatening Blizzard Poised to Strike New England
Sea Level Rising Faster Than Average in the U.S. Northeast
Sea Level Rising Faster Than IPCC Projections

Comments

By Chris (Shelton, CT 06484 )
on February 9th, 2013

CT News stations has Shelton with 40” and the jackpot winner of most snow accumulation grin

Reply to this comment

By John
on February 11th, 2013

It is time to awaken to some simple realities of nature – Someone take this message to the world. We are governed by twin forces - the force of heat and cold; One that unwinds and other that winds. They used to give way to one another slowly forming the climatic cycles. Accelerated climate change invariably means these forces are Peaking and falling in short time causing huge destruction. The climate is going wayward. Places that never had any snow falls are experiencing snow falls. Deserts that never experienced rainfall are flooding. Rains that used to come in one seasons are coming in one day. We are experiencing this through out the world, yet we are turning a blind eye. The root of the present situation of world exists in our ignorance of energy or climatic cycle in which live. It exists in our lack of knowledge of “Principle and Design” on which earth works to sustain certain energy to matter ratio and thus the heat of the environment within certain limit. The end result of our ignorance and greed for material power would be huge destruction from heat and cold and it would culminate in huge earth quakes and volcanic eruptions. If we fail to awaken to the simple truth on which nature functions we are doomed. I speak form life time research to know the Truth of Nature and understand it in simplicity. Some one please viral this and bring this to the attention of the world - http://www.scribd.com/doc/114273537/Climate-Change-and-Its-Relation-to-Energy
http://www.scribd.com/doc/112583263/Reinventing-Gravity-and-New-Space-Time-Reality

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