LOCAL VIEW –2017 Boston Blizzard–Winter’s Revenge (With post-storm update)

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In order to fully comprehend the irony adopted by New Englanders, its important to understand the weather has been attempting to play us for chumps, with many signs of an early spring.  A couple February storms had given us a quick three feet of powder snow, but then mild breezes swept north and the snow vanished with amazing speed. Signs of an early spring were everywhere. The pussy willows budded (wearing warm coats, which shows you they, at least, are not fooled by the weather).

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Mosses greened on the forest floor:

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And, of course, we had a hard time keeping coats on the kids, at our Childcare. Even when they sort of kept them on, they seemed to think they served better as sails in the warm gales from the south.

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The sap was running so fast in the maples the sugar-makers furrowed their brows with worry that it would be a bad year, with the run of sap over-and-done in a flash, and I was amazed by how quickly the ice vanished from ponds.

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Usually in late February we are still tromping across the ice, and it is March first when I start to be very careful, because strong spring sunshine has a way of thinning ice even when it is below freezing. (I think the ice may be like the roof of a greenhouse, and warms the water just beneath.) This year I didn’t worry about that, and instead had to keep an eye out for kids falling in at the edge. There is something irresistible about water,  to children in the spring.

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And even if they don’t fall in, children can find ways to get very wet.

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But this was February, and old, cantankerous anachronisms like myself are not fooled. We know March comes in like a lion.

The cold front that came was fascinating to me, for it was very dry on both sides of the front, so there was no line of showers or thunderstorms. However I did notice the sky, which had been perfectly blue, suddenly had a few small cumulus to the north, coming south fairly rapidly. I was herding a small gang of 6-9 year-olds out to the bus stop, and the sky was so fascinating I was unimpressed by a drama occurring between a boy and girl right in front of me.

The “official rules” state one cannot “save” their place in line with a backpack, but one girl was seeing if she could break the rules, and the boy objected. Rather than seeking me (as I am judge and jury) he booted her backpack about fifteen yards away, which breaks another “official rule.” The girl then flopped on the ground and sobbed, achieving a level of decibels that might make a jet airplane cower. The boy folded his arms and sneered at her. Rather than giving the children any attention, I pointed at the sky and exclaimed, “Will you look at that!”

The other seven children were shrugging and rolling their eyes, for the drama was everyday. Perhaps that is why I was giving it so little attention. No matter how much I arbitrate, that boy and that girl always seem to enact the same drama. However the young girl was having none of it. She was bound to get my attention by hook or by crook, and was working herself up into a hysteria, as the boy just tugged the brim of his baseball cap down over his eyebrows and looked all the more ruthless. I pointed off at the horizon. “Look! Entire trees are swaying. Big wind is coming!”

I have a reputation for attempting to deal with some petty squabbles with distractions. (I basically change the subject.) Perhaps this explains why absolutely no one payed any attention, as a roaring noise approached. The thaw had uncovered the unraked leaves in the pasture…

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And suddenly the leaves stirred and then swirled up like a vast dust devil and came charging towards us. “Here it comes!” I shouted, and then we were hit by a blast of wind I would guess was around 70 miles an hour. The seven children who were onlookers all screamed for the sheer joy of screaming, the hysterical girl became owl-eyed and silent for roughly a second, before starting anew, and the tough boy burst into tears, for his favorite baseball cap took off for Europe. Meanwhile a mother was just arriving with her five-year-old, and looked around at all the screaming and sobbing midst swirling leaves with deep concern, as her child looked about with a sleepy expression, and then smiled in approval. I just shrugged and said, “Don’t worry. It goes with the territory”, and then went to retrieve the boy’s hat from across the street, as the bus came lumbering down the road. Roughly fifty seconds later the wind was dying down, and the noise was the bus driver’s problem, and peace returned. However I could feel the difference in the air. By afternoon flurries were dusting the landscape, and the mud I had told the children to stay out of was becoming hard as iron.

March had definitely come in like a lion. The expression that is used in many lands, “If you don’t like the weather wait a minute” is said to have originated in New England (when Mark Twain lived here) but everyone else says it originated in their neighborhood. I don’t want to start any fights, so I’ll just quote what Mark Twain actually wrote:

“I reverently believe that the Maker who made us all makes everything in New England but the weather. I don’t know who makes that, but I think it must be raw apprentices in the weather-clerk’s factory who experiment and learn how, in New England, for board and clothes, and then are promoted to make weather for countries that require a good article, and will take their custom elsewhere if they don’t get it.

There is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather that compels the stranger’s admiration — and regret. The weather is always doing something there; always attending strictly to business; always getting up new designs and trying them on the people to see how they will go. But it gets through more business in spring than in any other season.

In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four-and-twenty hours. It was I that made the fame and fortune of that man that had that marvelous collection of weather on exhibition at the Centennial, that so astounded the foreigners. He was going to travel all over the world and get specimens from all the climes. I said, “Don’t you do it; you come to New England on a favorable spring day.” I told him what we could do in the way of style, variety, and quantity. Well, he came and he made his collection in four days. As to variety, why, he confessed that he got hundreds of kinds of weather that he had never heard of before. And as to quantity — well, after he had picked out and discarded all that was blemished in any way, he not only had weather enough, but weather to spare; weather to hire out; weather to sell; to deposit; weather to invest; weather to give to the poor.”

As an old grouch I began warning people to keep their guard up as soon as this winter had a nice spell in January. Then I looked very smug when we got three feet of snow in early February. Then, when that melted, I pouted only a little while, before I remembered the winter of 1887-1888 was remarkably mild and snowless, before THE blizzard of 1888 struck on March 11, and lasted until the 14th. New York City got four feet.

http://myinwood.net/a-buried-city-the-blizzard-of-1888/

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It is always good to have some history, if you want to be a pessimistic old grouch, and spoil another’s good day. However it is quite another thing to actually predict when such a storm will happen. Here I must be humble and state I bow before the ability of some meteorologists, especially Joe Bastardi and Joe D’Aleo, who gave me a heads-up over a week ago on their Weatherbell Site, when the computer models were still waffling with a wide variety of possible solutions.

I know just enough about meteorology to know how many things can go wrong with a forecast for a storm. I have suffered considerable agony over such forecasts, for when I was young a storm was a gift from heaven, freeing me from the purgatory of school and allowing the sheer paradise of play. My opinion of the white stuff has considerably altered since then, but I still recall the shamefaced TV weathermen explaining why certain storms of my boyhood failed to manifest. They could veer out to sea, or they could “elongate” and become two or three weak storms rather becoming a single gale, or, worst of all, they could hook inland and turn the snow to pouring rain.

A lot of things have to happen right, but when they happen they can happen fast. I recall reading a description of the blizzard of 1888 from the perspective of fishermen, (I can’t offer a link, because I have never found that article again), and apparently even the sailors were fooled. The sail-powered Long Island fleet was trying to sneak a trip in, on a balmy spring day, and suddenly the sky swiftly grew black and they heard thunder, and it was a battle to get back to shore, and not every boat made it.

This abrupt development of a storm (not a lone thunderstorm but a gale many hundreds of miles across) is dubbed “bombogenesis” by meteorologists, and while the word has not yet been accepted by Webster’s Dictionary, it does express the explosive nature of the development. Joseph D’Aleo is an expert on how it occurs, and to simplify his excellent explanations, (found on his Weatherbell site), what occurs is that a “lid” which has been holding ocean-warmed air down, and keeping it from rising, is abruptly removed as a high pressure’s descending air moves away. Then the uplift is further enhanced by one or two jet-streams.

One fascinating thing about jet streams is that they don’t merely move in a straight line, but corkscrew in a clockwise manner at the front and a counter-clockwise manner to the rear (facing forward.)  Therefore if the back of a departing jet lines up correctly with the front  of an arriving jet, the uplift can be extreme, and storms go from having a lid on them to having every encouragement to explode upwards.

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What amazes me is the ability some meteorologists have to see when this “might” occur, days in advance. I think meteorologists deserve far more credit than they get, for giving us fair warning. Everyone is eager to make them a laughing stock when they are wrong, but they sometimes are right, and when they are right they deserve thanks, because, to be honest, I doubt we’d have a clue these storms were coming without them.

I like to test myself.  I spend a lot of time outside, and like to see if I can tell when a storm is coming, by only using what I can gauge with my own eyes. I saw very little that clued me in this past week. Not even my goats seemed to be wary.  Yesterday morning there was a weak low down in the Gulf of Mexico, and a small storm rolling across the Great Pains, and a “lid” of high pressure off the east coast.20170313 satsfc

The radar showed some snow over the midwest, but no sign of a bomb to the east and only a few sprinkles of rain in the Gulf.20170313 rad_nat_640x480

We’d been experiencing bitter cold:  -2° on Sunday morning and 3° on Monday morning (-19° and -16° Celsius) with Sunday’s bitter winds giving way to Monday’s calm. Rather than falling the pressure kept rising, to 30.17 at noon on Monday. High clouds made the skies gray around noon on Monday, but then it cleared off. I joked it was a gorgeous day, and people were foolish to be rushing about, but they continued. The stores were crowded with people stocking up, though there was no sign of a storm. In fact it was the dull sort of day worthy of one E.B.Webster’s “Life’s Darkest Moments” cartoons.

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I was able to salvage some of the afternoon by allowing the older boys (8 years old) to start a fire on their own, and then showing them tricks to success when they failed.

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However the future still looked dull, though word came school had been cancelled at the public schools, the following day. (Our childcare has never been closed.) Then the evening map showed some signs the northern and southern lows were “phasing”

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And the radar showed the “lid” was coming off at the coast, but it looked like mostly rain.

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Still, the moon was bright, and the barometer was high, only slightly falling, 30.15 at 7:45 PM and 30.11 at midnight.

Then, this morning, the storm had appeared on the coast, with the barometer starting to fall more swiftly to 29.98, and light snow falling outside.

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The rain had changed to snow as it pushed north, and after bottoming out at 17° my thermometer was refusing to rise.  It looks like bombogenesis for certain.

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Update.  Only one boy showed up at the Childcare. Everyone is hunkering down, as the forecast is ominous for the afternoon, with gusts to 60 mph and perhaps some freezing rain briefly mixing in to break branches and perhaps knock out our power, in which case I guess I won’t update, (Ha ha).

Barometer is falling rapidly to 29.65, and temperature has nudged up to 19°. (-7° Celsius)

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Snow is moderate. We have 4 inches. The real heavy stuff is not far to our south.

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Update: 1:41 PM  Heavy snow and windy. — 23° — 29.38 and falling rapidly.

Update 3:30 PM  Heavy snow and windy — 23° — 29.16 and falling rapidly. Snow may slack off as dry slot pushes north from south of us.

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Update: 4:08 —24° — 29.06  Windy but snow slacking off. Now it is fine, sifting flakes penetrating chinks of clothing on a strong wind.  No way am I heading out to clean-up quite yet, but I can take a picture out my front window.Z12 IMG_4447

5:00  –24°–  –28.98 — No snow shows over us on radar, but the fine stuff is still falling. The wind is going to make clean-up problematic, as places will drift back in. In fact, by raising walls of snow either side of a walkway I may merely make a deeper place to drift in. Therefore perhaps its wiser to stay indoors?

6:07 PM  –24°– –28.86– Dry slot over us on radar but steady light snow falling

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9:50 PM Clean-up done at childcare. Snow was not light and fluffy. It was starchy and fairly heavy. Hard to gauge depth, due to drifting. I’d guess 16 inches.  Wind slacked off, with occasional big gusts. Snow was fine and didn’t show on radar, but in the past half hour big flakes began falling, and abruptly appeared on the radar.  Barometer 28.88 and steady. Temperature 23° (-5° Celsius) .

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Update:  1:00 AM  –18°– –28.99–Still some light snow

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7:00 AM 9° — 29.13 —  Blue skies we had about another inch, but lots of drifting.

POST-STORM UPDATE 

11:00 AM  Sunny 19°; Barometer 29.15 and steady. Winds surprisingly light, considering how tight the isobars look on the map. Backlash snows well to our west over New York State.

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I had to do more clean-up due to drifting, and also due to the fact State Law wants all exits clear. (I think it is so Child Care Professionals can escape the building when the kids are about to drive them bonkers, but I could be wrong about that.) There was a two-hour-delay, so the older children got to stay with us longer before the bus came. I tried to look appropriately sad about leaving the din to go out into the gorgeous sunshine, but my frown was upside down.

The snow was stiff and starchy and the snowblower has only five blades working because a rock broke a sheer-pin on the sixth, so the blower crept through the deep snow with exasperating slowness. I’d say it moved at around a yard a minute.

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There were some emergencies that couldn’t wait for a path to be cleared. There was no heat in the childcare, and I assumed the air-inlet was blocked by snow, and that I needed to trudge through the drifts. (Inlet just beyond blocked exit).

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I was able to clean the inlet with my pinkie finger, and saved the day. This is the fourth time I’ve been a hero with a minimum of effort. Ice was starting to skim the upstairs toilet, but I realized the upstairs heat had been accidentally turned off, so I fixed that problem by turning on the heat. Then the water pressure was low, and I became aware a pipe had frozen and burst because a window had blown out in the basement of the old farmhouse, which seemed major, but I fixed the window by picking it up from the floor (it had six panes and not one broke), and jamming it back where it belonged, and then the broken pipe turned out to be a side-line leading to an outdoor spigot, so I simply turned a faucet handle and shut off that line (to be fixed when the weather was warmer), and just like that I’m a hero again.

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Then I could get back to clearing the exits. Unfortunately the blower only clears snow two feet deep, which is only enough for a dog door in some exits.

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I was thinking of telling my wife that in an emergency people could crawl, but after further consideration I broke down and used an old fashioned shovel. I’m still alive.

Now all eyes are looking to the Canadian prairies. An Alberta Clipper is expected to slide down from there over the next few days, and again there may be bombogenesis on the coast.  Never a dull moment.

From Joe Bastardi’s blog at Weatherbell, here is how one model sees the snow this weekend. (Cape Cod gets hammered, and we only get an inch….fine with me.)

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2:30 PM  29.22 and steady. 21°,  and partly cloudy; some high clouds of the “junk” variety, but mostly low cumulus looking suspicious, like we might get some flurries.

10:00 PM –29.41– –14°–Scattered flurries

Thursday, 7:00 AM –29.55– –13°– Partly cloudy (Overnight low 10°)

 

 

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LOCAL VIEW —BESIDE BOSTON’S BLIZZARD—(Updated twice)

We only have three feet of snow up here in our hills, which is not all that rare. I know it is getting bad when the snow gets up to the top rail of the garden fence. Ordinarily I only need drive down south fifteen miles or so, to where the “flatlanders” live, and snow depths drop off dramatically. My sister, who lives in Watertown right up the Charles River from Boston, often has bare ground and is amazed when I send her pictures of drifts up to the eves of the barns snow-shedding roof. Not this year. Boston is buried.

Its not really  fair for people who live in areas that have more snow to laugh at people who don’t, when they do. I used to work for a guy who lived by Lake Erie when young, and he would roll his eyes when people in New England exclaimed at snows of over a foot, saying it was merely a flurry, compared to lake-effect snows. (He neglected to mention how localized such snow is, how light and fluffy it is, and how lake-effect snows shut down nearly completely once Lake Erie freezes over.) Furthermore, he muttered and cursed as much as any New Englander when he had to deal with the conditions created by coastal snows.

It is hard enough when dealing with a foot or two, but now Boston has had 80 inches, most of it in the past 21 days. Despite settling and a little thawing there are 4 to 5 feet in places. They are not used to it. It is difficult to prepare for what has not happened in the lifetime on anyone alive.

Now they are expecting another foot, with temperatures at 10° ( -12.2 ° Celsius) and winds that could gust as high as 70 mph. It is a time to hope the forecast is wrong. The city will be shut down if it is correct.

Up in these hills we are basically onlookers. We will be greatly inconvenienced by more snow, but not shut down.

We began this morning with a blast of cold air. Temperatures kept dropping even after the sun rose from 7.9° at 5:00 AM to 1.9° around 8:30. Wind whipped yesterday’s 2 inches around as dazzling clouds of stinging white. And this is just yesterdays storm blowing up, as it moves away far out to sea. The next clipper is expected to blow up nearly on top of us. We shall see.

Right now the low looks very innocent, over South Dakota. It’s pressure is at 1021 mb, which likely makes Europeans chuckle, as they call that high pressure. If the forecast is correct, it could be east of Boston in 48 hours with a pressure of 960 mb.

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The radar shows only a small patch of snow out west.

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This should be fun to watch, but I can only do that if I don’t have to go out in it, so I’d better get to work on my chores. I’ll update when I can.

UPDATE #1 —Brutal cold funeral—

Yesterday’s high was only 8.1°, (-13.3° Celsius), despite a brilliant sun. The wind was cruel, and it was one of the rare days when the children at our Childcare didn’t go outside, despite our focus on the outdoors. I might have taken a few of the more energetic children out for a half hour or so, for I noticed our goats did leave the shelter beneath the barn to wade through the deep snow and eat the ceder shingles off the side of one of our out-buildings, so I knew there were sunny patches out of the wind worth visiting, albeit briefly. However, right in the middle of the day, my dwindling church was hosting a fairly large funeral, for a small town.

It was in some ways an impossible task, as the smarter members of the church are in Florida, either retired or on vacation, and on paper it looked like seven people had to host a funeral three hundred might attend. It was a task we were sort of stuck with, as we are the “community church”, the tiresome Calvinist remnant of the original 150 European settlers, who at one point were the government of the town, and who became so vocal that the rest of the USA took a condescending view and called New England the “Bible Belt” (the same way that people view parts of the American South, today).  Obviously a reaction occurred, as New England now is home of just about the most virulent distaste towards Christianity imaginable, in various liberal guises. (Some would rather take LSD and converse with a chunk of crystal quartz, than put up with a preacher.) Be that as it may, we happen to have a big building, if not a big membership, and this means we have this thing called the “facilities” for a funeral. So we were stuck with the darn job.

The weather was uncooperative, unless some prayer was answered that pushed the last storm out to sea. It took a major effort just to clear the parking lots. Then the wind howled behind that storm, and even though it “missed” us, it whirled clouds of stinging snow about. I found time to zip over to the church in the orange twilight before dawn to shovel the drifts from the doorways, focusing on the handicapped ramp over which the coffin would be rolled. Then, feeling virtuous, I hustled off to open the Childcare. The wind hustled to build a new drift, and then a elderly lady, arriving to work in the kitchen, shoveled away the drift a second time. However when the coffin arrived it bogged down in a third drift, and the guys from the funeral home had to do some swift work. Maybe they put chains on the wheels of their coffin-roller. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

I showed up briefly after dropping off the gang-of-six at kindergarten, and was amazed at the hive of activity. As a person who was opposed to the draft in the Vietnam war, I am reluctant to draft anyone into any activity, however other church members have no such scruples.  Things got done. Even the programs to be handed out to people entering the church involved work as clocks approached midnight, the night before,  but they were done. I take no credit. I was having a hard time finding time to change into my suit.

The gang-of-six had some choice remarks to make about me being “:dressed funny” when I picked them up from the half-day kindergarten and dropped them off at the Childcare, and they frowned on me for not staying. However I was late to a funeral.

It was great to see our church filled, for a change, and have it be for a good fellow who taught shop at the school for 40 years. Some day I hope to tell how, like a pebble dropped into a small pond, his influence spread out like ripples, and there is fabric on the surface of Mars, amazing glass-walled hotel lobbies with two-story-tall trees growing in them, and lazer technology used by the construction industry, which can be traced back to his shop class. For now, let it suffice to say he was remembered well, got a good “send off”, and we had a “celebration of life”.

Of course, none of that really matters when facing the starkness of death. We can “celebrate life” all we want, but death has a nasty habit of reducing all such banter to absurdity. Especially when a good man wasn’t even seventy years old when he died. Under such duress, perhaps people just need to cry.

Having faced that winter, it was time to change back to my work-clothes and hustle about facing a less important winter. And less important details.  Such as the fact that, if the coming storm doesn’t blow like crazy while dropping only a modest amount of snow, I will have to prop a ladder by sheds and barns and start shoveling roofs. However I am hoping the wind blows the powder snow off those roofs.

The evening maps still showed no storm. Just a little clipper. It is amazing that forecasters can talk of winds gusting to 75 mph in Boston, and 40 mph away from the coast in these hills, when there is basically nothing to see.

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Temperatures had crashed below zero to -1.6° (-18.7° Celsius), by 9:00 PM.

UPDATE #2  —GRAY MORNING—

I was up briefly a little after midnight to stick some wood in the fire, and noticed temperatures had risen to +1.1°, as a thin overcast slid over. A quick glance at the wee hour maps showed nothing very impressive.

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I doubt I would be particularly concerned, beyond my usual suspicions about any storms, were in not for the media. Though people like to laugh at the forecasters, in this case they have people who would otherwise be caught off guard very much on guard.

Temperatures  took another nosedive as the patch of clouds slid away and stars shone and I did the sensible thing, which was to go back to bed. They had dropped to -6.9° (-21.6° Celsius) in the dusk before dawn, when a new deck of clouds slid over and turned the day gray.

The radar shows the area of snow to our west expanding, and the map shows the clipper to our northwest a little stronger, but to the layman the maps continue to look fairly innocent. Who would guess a blizzard would be exploding just off the coast in 12 hours? You can see how the fishing fleet, back in the days of sail, might sniff a south wind and decide to dare head out, and be caught. There was one storm that wiped out something like a third of the fleet back in the 1800’s. . And those old-timers knew their weather lore. So perhaps we ought give meteorologists more credit than we do.

Now I’ve got to get cracking. starting by loading up the porch with firewood.

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UPDATE #3 —The first wave—

Very light snow started early, at 9:00 AM, as I hustled to get wood onto the porch. It didn’t show on the radar, but caused consternation. Temperatures had risen fairly swiftly into the teens, and we had a slight south wind, and I suppose were in a vague warm sector of the clipper, though the map showed the warm front to the west. As the snow expanded in the radar it formed two distinct areas, the first passing over us and associated with the warm front, and the decond diving down through northern Virginia and associated with the potential blizzard.

It was the first we had to deal with, as the snow gradually increased. We hit our high temperature of 16.3° as the snow began to thicken, and then the snow seemed to cool things, and temperatures were fairly level, but inching down.

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It being valentine’s day, my wife and I attempted to squeeze a little romance into the hectic storm preparations, and planned to eat out, after some shopping and a grandson’s basketball game one town away. However as the snow kept getting heavier the game was delayed and the crowd nervous about getting home, it was hard to feel relaxed. In the end we got spooked and skipped eating out and drove home through heavy snow at around 25 mph, getting home shortly before the heavy snow began tapering off, as the first area of snow moved east.

The map shows the storm has dipped down to west southwest  of us, and the second pocket of snow is surprising folk down in Maryland.

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Now the stars have come out, and if I was a farmer back in the days before a weather bureau I might think the storm had passed, as the winds have shifted around to the northwest. However I might scratch my jaw a little, because it is fifteen degrees warmer than last night, as if a warm front has passed and the cold front hasn’t hit us yet. Also I’d notice my bones ache with the falling pressure.

The temperature has only dropped to 12.2° (-11° Celsius) despite clearing skies and around four inches of fresh powder. So far there has been little wind. The pressure is 29.52 and falling. An old farmer would note that “falling glass” and rumple his brow.

Actually, with the stars out, I think I’ll call this “snow-event” officially over, and call tomorrow’s snow a different event, worthy of a different post.

Back in the 1600’s and in the early 1700’s there were terrible winters where Boston had 26 storms.  I’ve lost count this winter, but by stretching the definition of “snow event” a little we might be able to challenge the record.

A BOSTON BLIZZARD?

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Above is a reason not to have faith in computer models. It is a map I downloaded last Wedenday, showing me how much snow I could expect by this coming Wednesday. It shows one swath of snow coming up from the southwest and passing south of Boston, and then a second swath coming down from the northwest and also passing south of Boston. Boston could expect a total of perhaps three inches, and I, in southern New Hampshire, could expect a mere inch over the next seven days.

That was wonderful news, as I am an old grouch and don’t like cleaning up the parking lots and walkways of my home and business. It was also wrong news, as I understood as I came in from cleaning up the three inches the first feature brought up from the southwest. I clicked on my computer, and was confronted by this map of snow totals expected from the second feature, coming from the northwest.

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Yikes! That suggests more than a foot for Boston, and over two feet for where I live in southern New Hampshire. Not that it is right. It could be as incorrect as the first map, for all I know.

The above maps are are among thousands produced by Dr. Ryan Maue from data produced by weather bureaus from all over the world, and available at the excellent Weatherbell site. I highly recommend the site, though it will cost you about the price of a cup of coffee each day. I especially recommend the insights of their two senior meteorologists, Joe Bastardi and Joseph D’Aleo.

The interesting thing about the storm which now is appearing in the computer forecasts is that it is born from such a small feature. It looks all the world like a little Alberta Clipper, rippling down from the Canadian Rockies on an arctic cold front as it sags south. Typically these storms are small, as they have little moisture to feed off, unlike the storms that come up from the Gulf of Mexico, which often bring a big gob of moisture north with them. In this morning’s map you can see one such juicy feature departing to our Northeast, growing deeper as it swiftly departs. You can also see the approaching Alberta Clipper, to the southwest of Lake Superior, still far to our west and still looking rather innocent.

Even when the Atlantic Ocean is warmer than normal, as it now is, by the time an Alberta Clipper can tap into the moisture it is usually too late. As the storm strengthens it has already passed Boston, and is whisking away towards Greenland and Europe.

That is exactly what the computer models originally thought this clipper would do, and is why the map at the top of this post shows no snow for New Hampshire, where it now shows over two feet.  What has changed?

As I understand it the “steering currents”, which are the winds high up in the upper atmosphere, have changed.  Where isobars at the surface show circles for low pressure systems, the upper atmosphere ordinary only shows a dent in isobars, a “trough” that  ripples west to east like a wave on a shaken jump-rope. Normally these troughs lean to the east, and the steering currents whisk the low pressure at the surface to the northeast. More rarely (at our latitude) the trough can tilt back to the west, and this can cause a storm to behave as they more often due up at higher latitudes and the northern North Atlantic. The storm turns back to the west and its path describes a sort of curlicue, before it eventually drifts east.  (This sort of steering current is called a “negatively tilted” trough.)

Apparently the trough associated with the low that just swept by us was positively tilted, but the next trough is negatively tilted. The clipper will be pushed south by the arctic high pressure coming south behind the last storm,  and rather than moving out to sea north of us or over us, will move out to sea over warmer waters down east of the Virginia Capes. That warm water will feed it and it will grow very rapidly, but (at this point) looks unlikely to escape out to sea. The high pressure that pushed it south will stand in its way, and will “block” it, as the trough in the atmosphere above is becomes negatively  tilted. Therefore this innocent little clipper will describe a curlicue in the Atlantic southeast of Boston, growing stronger all the while.

Hold onto your hats.