The Record Blizzard of 2016

2016-blizzard-NASAThis past weekend’s snowstorm was one for the record books. Many will refer to it as The Blizzard of 2016″.

So what is a blizzard, anyway? The National Weather Service defines a blizzard as a severe snowstorm characterized by strong winds causing blowing snow that results in low visibilities. So the difference between a blizzard and a snowstorm is the strength of the wind, not the amount of snow.

To be a blizzard, a snow storm must have sustained winds or frequent gusts that are greater than or equal to 35 mph with blowing or drifting snow which reduces visibility to 1/4 mi or less. These conditions must persist for three hours or more.

Last weekend’s storm certainly met the wind and visibility criteria, but amazing amounts of snow were produced. Above normal water temperatures off the mid-Atlantic coast helped enhance moisture transport into the storm as the fuel for its “snow engine”.

This storm is also noteworthy for bringing snow totals at or nearing all-time records in multiple large metro areas. Other snowstorms have have higher totals, but none were as widespread. Highest totals include…

New York City – John F. Kennedy Airport 30.5 inches, all-time record
Central Park 26.8 inches 2nd highest of all time

Baltimore – 29.2 inches, all time record

Washington, DC – 17.8 inches 4th largest on record

The satellite image above (from NASA) shows the development of the storm over south Texas as it moved north and east over several days.

Jim Purpura, CCM
Meteorologist, WeatherExtreme Ltd.

Intense high pressure area in Northern Great Plains

An intense high pressure area has settled into the Northern Great Plains, and has brought bitterly cold temperatures along with it. Across much of North Dakota and Minnesota, mid-day temperatures will stay below zero. Dangerous wind chills have been occurring, with values as low as -40, although these are expected to abate somewhat today as the winds slacken. Even the actual temperature has been extremely cold, with Kabetogama, Minnesota reaching a bone-chilling -25 this morning.
North and Northwest winds from this huge high pressure are pushing the cold air to the east and south, so that most of the Eastern United States is cold now. Even in the deep South temperatures are struggling to get over 50.
Things will start to warm up in the east on Saturday, and by early next week a push of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico will bring rain to much of the region. For a detailed weather display, click here

James D. Means, Ph.D.
Atmospheric and Climate Scientist
WeatherExtreme Ltd.

“Pineapple Express” brings substantial winter weather to most of California and eastern Nevada

A vigorous late Fall/early Winter storm system has tapped a connection to subtropical moisture and is bringing substantial rain and mountain snow to much of California and eastern Nevada. Storms of this type are commonly referred to by the media as “Pineapple Express”, for their connection to the tropics, but Meteorologists generally refer to these moisture plumes as “Atmospheric Rivers”.

In advance of the storm, Incline Village registered a wind gust to 51 mph yesterday. Today, snowfall will be measured in feet in the Sierras. At lower elevations in northern California, rainfall has already exceeded 10 inches in some foothill locations in northern California.

In southern Califonia, rain totals early morning through noon have approached 4 inches in the LA County Mountains, and 1 to 2 inches totals are common across Orange, Riverside, and San Diego Counties.

Steady rain has ended across LA and Orange County and will be ending early in the afternoon across San Diego and Riverside Counties. The steady rain will be replaced by scattered showers and thunderstorms the remainder of the afternoon through Saturday morning.

There will be a break in the rain after Saturday, but computer forecast models are showing another system with the potential for significant rain could affect Califonia and western Nevada Wednesday and Thursday.

The Latest on The Pineapple Express Storm

Jim Purpura
Director, Forecast Operations

‘Pineapple Express’ System to Bring Much Needed Moisture to California

It’s no secret that California has been experiencing one of the most severe droughts on record. But with a strong Pacific low pressure system along the west coast, moisture will finally be heading our way. This particular storm, known as a “Pineapple Express”, acts as an atmospheric river, characterized by its strong persistent flow transporting moisture from the tropics, the Hawaiian region in particular, to the Pacific coast.

Strong winds as high as 100mph along with heavy rain and snowfall can be expected to dominate California, as a cold front trailing the low sweeps across the state. Winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories are in effect for Central and Northern California, as well as higher elevation regions such as the San Bernardino Mountains, where 4-8 inches of snow can be expected. As much as 1-2 feet of snow is anticipated to dump on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, causing whiteout conditions and power outages throughout the region.

As for the lower elevation portions of the state including southern California, flood and flash flood warnings and advisories are in effect, leading to mudslides throughout the area. As the cold front pushes eastward by Saturday, a weak ridge will move into the region, bringing dry air and mild weather for Sunday and Monday. However, with another trough expected to dig along the coast on Monday, light to moderate showers may once again be headed our way next week. Stay safe

Kayla Jordan

Winter Review 2013-2014

The volatile winter of 2013-2014 kept the news headlines revolving around the weather. While California and parts of the desert Southwest continued to suffer from record drought, portions of the northern and eastern United States experienced one of the coldest, and sometimes snowiest winter seasons on record (and most of those records date back to the mid-late 1800’s)! Myths about the polar vortex and its media craze were debunked in previous blogs, but that does not take away the fact that it was a frigid winter for millions of folks who are surely ready for some warmth. It is nearing the end of April, and locations in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are STILL measuring new snowfall!

This map of statewide temperature rankings for the period of December 2013 – February 2014 demonstrates the stark contrast between the dominant weather patterns on opposite sides of the country:

Source: NCDC.

Additionally, this map of statewide precipitation rankings for December 2013 – February 2014 shows the wet, active storm track over much of the Midwest and Northeast, while many states in Southwest, including California, approached their all-time driest seasons:

Source: NCDC.

How cold is a “Top 10” ranked coldest winter on average in parts of the Midwest? This map from the National Weather Service in Northern Indiana region shows the time that various locations in the region spent below 0°F (listed in number of 24 hour totals). Keep in mind that this was only through February 26, and that March and April were also noticeably cold compared to averages.
Source: NWS Northern Indiana and the Iowa Environmental Mesonet.

And finally, these maps of Mean Temperature for January 2014 show observed temperatures (top) and temperature anomolies compared to past January data from 1981-2010 (bottom). Almost all of North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan spent the month at an average temperature below 10°F (top)! Lows in the coldest spots often dipped to -40°F to -50°F! Even some states in the deep south like Mississippi and Alabama experienced average temperatures for the month only near or slightly above freezing (top). The average temperature was between 5°F to 15°F below average for the vast majority of the east, while almost the entire rest is shaded in above average temperature colors (bottom).

Source: Oregon State University.

Source: Oregon State University.

Because of the cold wave, the Great Lakes accumulated the most ice cover in 35 years. At one point, over 90% of all the surfaces of the Great Lakes were ice covered! As of April 15th, the lower 2/3 of Lake Superior, the largest of the lakes, is still frozen at record levels! This image will be one of the storytellers of the extreme winter of 2013-2014 for years to come:

Source: NOAA.