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Biggest East Coast blizzard of the decade?

Oh, to be in the Washington D.C. area right now – to witness the chaos, carnage and confusion. With the possible exception of Boston, our nation’s capital may be the most snow-challenged metropolitan area in the nation to drive.

* Biggest east coast blizzard of the decade? 1-2 feet from Washington D.C. to New York and Boston, blizzard warnings posted.
* 1-2″ for parts of Minnesota Sunday, slippery roads possible.
* More significant snow event brewing for Christmas Eve, could be “plowable”.
* Light snow should taper to flurries Christmas Day with little additional accumulation.
* Chilly air as we end out 2009, but nothing “arctic” in sight – yet.

Oh, to be in the Washington D.C. area right now – to witness the chaos, carnage and confusion. With the possible exception of Boston, our nation’s capital may be the most snow-challenged metropolitan area in the nation to drive. People simply freak out when there’s snow in the forecast. I have no idea why this is, but I’ve heard some interesting theories: a lot of foreign diplomats have never seen snow before, yet they continue to drive (way too fast) when the flakes begin to fly. Perhaps it’s a shortage of snow removal equipment (ie plows). What’s the old saying about Washington D.C.? “A wonderful mixture of northern charm and southern efficiency.” I love DC, but when it snows it’s best to retire to your bunker and wait out the craziness.

Blizzard Warnings. You don’t see this very often. Blizzard warnings are posted for the eastern suburbs of Washington D.C. – including Annapolis. My son is hunkered down at the U.S. Naval Academy, and he’s describing deserted streets and near white-out conditions at times with about 10″ so far. Snow may fall at the rate of 2-4″/hour at times today, with thunder and lightning – that’s how intense this explosive nor’easter is brewing off the coast of Virginia. I told him to take some video for his old man – weather geek that I am I would give ANYTHING to be there right now!

Projected Snowfall. I’m impressed with the size of the area that’s expecting 18-20″ snowfall amounts, stretching from D.C. and Baltimore to Philadelphia and the New York City area by Saturday night. Not a good weekend for travel by land or by air, in fact this could be the most debilitating storm for the northeast in a decade.

Shut Down. A live webcam from downtown Washington D.C., where snow is accumulating at the rate of 2-3″/hour. To check out some live cameras area int he D. C. from Weather Bug click here.

Much of the D.C. area and Annapolis is under a BLIZZARD WARNING today, with more blizzard warnings posted from Long Island to coastal Rhode Island to Cape Cod, where visibilities are expected to fall near zero with snow and blowing snow, sustained winds howling from the north at 30-40 mph as an old fashioned nor’easter creeps up the east coast. The worst conditions will be right along the coast, but 50-70 million Americans are being impacted by today’s super-storm. Washington D.C. should pick up a cool 15-20″ (which will paralyze the nation’s capital for 3-4 days, minimum), 12-15″ for Philadelphia, New York City will get buried under 10-15″, with about the same for Providence and Boston later tonight and Sunday, at least a foot, with some 3-4 foot drifts. Needless to say, this is an utter disaster, not only for travelers, but retailers hoping to squeeze in a few more sales the last weekend before Christmas. This is just what they didn’t need. The storm will finally push out to see Monday, and the Big Dig will commence – it may take until Tuesday or Wednesday before some sense of normalcy returns to the Mid Atlantic states and the coastal Northeast.

The east coast is closed until further notice. To see the very latest watches and warnings, click here. If you keep clicking you can drill down and get NWS forecasts for any city in the USA. Very cool.

Another storm is brewing for next week, conveniently timed for Christmas Eve. A Pacific storm will survive the trip over the Rockies, re-intensifying over the southern Plains before tracking north, toward the Great Lakes by Wednesday/Thursday of next week. Although the best chance of accumulating snow will remain over Iowa and Wisconsin, we could easily wind up with a few inches of snow Wednesday into Christmas Eve, tapering off to flurries Christmas Day. So yes, expect a very bright, white Christmas this year – I think we’ll be able freshen up the 4″ or so of snow that’s on the ground right now. It will turn colder behind the storm, but I don’t see evidence of the extreme, subzero airmass that was showing up on the models a few days ago – it would appear that the most extreme, battery-draining air will stay just to our north in Canada. NOAA is sticking to its guns with a forecast of warmer than average weather for the northern tier states, including Minnesota, from January through March, based largely on El Nino. I want to believe. I want to believe. But frankly, I’m starting to have my doubts. I’m starting to wonder (out loud) if this will be the roughly 1 out of 3 El Ninos that winds up colder than average for the Upper Midwest. It’s too early to know, but as of now I see no tangible evidence that El Nino’s warming effects are kicking in – I hope NOAA knows something, sees something I just can’t see at this point. I will continue to give them the benefit of a doubt, but let’s just say I’m starting to have my own doubts about whether this winter’s El Nino will kick in and save us from the wicked Yukon winds. Place your bets. Making a winter forecast is the rough equivalent of going to Las Vegas and putting all your chips on red (or black). You have a 50/50 probability of being right, or wrong. Feeling lucky?

Christmas Eve snowfall? The latest GFS computer run looks pretty enticing (for snow lovers), showing a significant storm lifting northward from the southern Plains toward the Great Lakes, a counterclockwise swirl of snow engulfing Wisconsin and Minnesota. It’s too early to speculate about amounts, but the storm could certainly be “plowable”, meaning at least 3″ or so. If you’re planning to travel a day or two before Christmas stay up on the latest forecasts, and you might want to consider leaving a little earlier (Wednesday?) or wait until Christmas Day, when road conditions should gradually improve as light snow tapers to flurries. To see the latest model guidance for yourself click here.

In the meantime I don’t expect any weather headaches for Minnesota today, just clouds and a few stray flakes. A clipper is forecast to arrive tomorrow, computer models hinting at a quick inch or two of fluffy, powdery snow during the day. Another inch or so is possible late Monday, followed by potentially more significant amounts by Wednesday and Thursday of next week. Nothing like tip-toeing into winter!

Paul’s Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Mostly cloudy with a chilling breeze, few flurries in the air. Winds: NW 5-10. High: 24

Tonight: Very light snow or flurries, some roads become slick late. Low: 13

Sunday: Light snow, coating to an inch or two possible with some slippery roads. High: 23

Monday: More clouds, another burst of light snow late in the day, maybe another inch. High: 24

Tuesday: A brief break, better travel. Intervals of sun, probably dry. High: 22

Wednesday: Getting cloudier, light snow developing. High: 23

Christmas Eve: A period of accumulating snow – few inches possible, potentially “plowable”. High: 24

Christmas Day: Snow tapers to flurries, little additional accumulating. High: 22 (falling).