Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Boom or bust? It all depends on location!

Here's a really clear synopsis of what happened with this storm, and why some areas really are experiencing all that and more - and why for other areas (like around here) it's been mostly a bust. Bottom line - location was everything with this storm. As of 9 am today, when Amherst had about 5" of snow, Boston was getting buried, and Framingham had the jackpot for Massachusetts at 30". Nantucket is currently without power, and the storm continues to rage across coastal areas of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. We have been getting very light snow all morning, currently a grand total (on the Amherst/Pelham border) of 6". 

By , Expert Senior Meteorologist
January 27, 2015; 11:59 AM ET
Suomi NPP captures blizzard near peak intensity as it moves over New York and Boston regions at 1:45 am EST on Jan. 27, 2015. (NOAA/NASA)
As it became obvious on Saturday that a major blizzard was going to hit the Northeast, the track and size of the storm became critical as to which areas would be hit the hardest.
The Blizzard of 2015 has hit with all its fury in central and eastern Long Island to southern and eastern New England. The storm that started off as a moisture-starved Alberta Clipper has caused major disruptions and it is not over.
Much of Long Island and southern and eastern New England will end up buried by 12-24 inches of snow. This storm for some locations, such as Worcester, Massachusetts, already ranks as one of the top-five biggest snowstorms in history. In Worcester, the biggest storm is 33 inches set during the March 31-April 1 storm of 1997.
As of 7:00 a.m. EST Tuesday, approximately 8 inches had fallen on New York City's Central Park with 11 inches at LaGuardia Airport.
Much less snow fell in the Philadelphia area. As of 7:00 a.m. EST Tuesday, 1-2 inches had fallen on the city.
Additional snow will fall from the upper mid-Atlantic coast to New England on Tuesday.
So, what caused the storm to drop less snow along the I-95 corridor in the mid-Atlantic from Philadelphia to New York City?
According to AccuWeather.com Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams, "The storm was more compact than we thought it would get. As a result, the back edge of the heavy snow and strong winds were farther to the east."
Once the storm hit the Atlantic Ocean on Monday, it began to strengthen tremendously and move steadily northeastward, rather than stall. The storm also began to track a few dozen miles farther east than speculated on Sunday.
Had the storm swelled larger by 50 miles farther west, blizzard conditions would have reached New York City, and a heavy snow accumulation would have edged into the Philadelphia area.
Snow-covered roadways and vehicles in the Boston area Tuesday morning, Jan. 27, 2015. (Photo/takumamusic)
Because of the storm's compact size, relatively speaking, the heavy wet snow was limited to extreme southeastern New England.
"Dry, powdery snow and moderate wind has spared the New York City area to central New England massive power outages," Abrams said. "However, the snow has been wet and clinging, combined with high winds, in southeastern Massachusetts and has caused numerous power outages."
Additional snow will fall in the corridor from Philadelphia to New York City into Tuesday afternoon with locally heavy burst or two of snow in some cases.
Blizzard conditions will continue into Tuesday evening in part of New England.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Storm is advancing - now what to do about it?

Called a friend of mine last night - she lives in New York City - to discuss Birdman and the outcome of the SAG awards, when I happened to mention the impending storm. "Really? There's a storm? Coming.... here?" she queried casually. You can probably imagine my response.

New York City, along with Boston, and just about all of Southern New England and the mid-Atlantic coastal areas will be feeling the brunt of this storm, which is projected to bring 2-3 feet of snow to much of our area. The eastern half of Massachusetts and all coastal areas will also get high winds and blizzard conditions. That includes, of course, New York City. And managing a storm like that in a place like New York City is daunting to say the least. Just figuring out where to put the snow is an almost impossible task.

My friend mused on how funny it is that New Yorkers freak out when the corner Starbucks closes due to a few inches of snow. I responded by explaining that New York's EMT services will be accompanied by the National Guard. You can see our heads were in slightly different places. The EMT thing did make an impact, fortunately. "Why ever do they need the National Guard?" she asked with surprise. She may sound ditzy to you, but I assure you, she's a well-regarded lawyer, generally very asute and clever about things. Apparently not the potential impact of weather.

After about 10 minutes of relaying all the potential impacts of a storm of this magnitude, I seemed to have broken through her fog of denial. "Oh gee," she said, "is there something I should do to prepare?" Turns out she just happens to have a fireplace and wood (something I don't even have, mind you, which definitely put a damper on my "more prepared than thou" attitude), but on other counts, she was glad for the checklist.

So on that note, if you aren't already working with your own checklist, there's still time to prepare before hunkering down to ride this one out:

  • Make sure to have a two-week supply of your family's medications, including any pet medications needed.
  • Have at least a few days' food, water, and supplies for infants, young children, pets, and others in your family that may have special requirements.
  • Make sure to have a radio, working flashlights, and extra batteries.
  • Charge your phone and charge back-up chargers before the storm starts. Keep your phone charged up as much as possible ahead of and during the storm.
  • Have extra blankets, and winter gear like hats, gloves, and scarves on standby and in your car in case of emergency.
  • Fill your gas tank before the snow starts, as gas stations need electricity to run, so they could close down if the power goes out.
  • Make sure you have cash - ATMs close down when there are power outages. You may also want to take care of any bills that you might normally pay over the next week.
  • WMECO suggests turning your refrigerator to its coldest settings ahead of the storm to help food last a couple of extra days if there is a power outage. Alternatively, it's going to be plenty cold after this storm passes, so storing food in a cooler outside (with a latch that animals can't open) is another option I've used in past storms.
There - that's the short list. All things you should be able to take care of this morning. Massachusetts officials are asking all non-essential personnel to be off the roads by later this afternoon through Tuesday.

And if you want more to do, along with emergency numbers, check out the Town of Amherst's emergency preparedness brochure, here.  

Stay safe, everyone, and enjoy the snow!

Latest snowfall projections

Harvey Leonard (the Boston meteorologist who made a name for himself when he accurately predicted the Blizzard of '78) this morning updated the snowfall projections slightly, placing us in a somewhat more manageable zone. Shoveling 18" is one thing - 30" is quite another. Of course, this map is no consolation to people living in the Worcester Hills, southern NH, and Boston.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Waiting for the Blizzard of 2015?

Boston Globe photo of Route 128, Blizzard of '78
A WINTER STORM WATCH  & STORM UPDATE FOR MONDAY-WEDNESDAY.  You undoubtedly already have your eye on this coming week’s storm, but I would be remiss not to add a little local perspective to the avalanche (or would that be “snowstorm”?) of information coming your way.  It’s being called “historic,” with a set-up something akin to the Blizzard of ’78. Weather forecasters do not say this lightly – in Massachusetts these days, the Blizzard of ’78 is the bar against which all other snowstorms are measured. But part of what made the Blizzard of ’78 so dangerous was that it caught a lot of people off guard. Remember photos of all those cars stranded on highways and byways in feet of snow? Houses sucked into the ocean? Trapped in and around your house for days? Fortunately, weather forecasting has come a long way in the last four decades, and this time around Harvey Leonard isn't the only weather forecaster seeing it coming. So before you criticize forecasters for over-hyping the weather to boost their station’s ratings, keep in mind that storms like this can be lethal. Keeping hundreds of people from being stranded on the Mass Pike or falling into the ocean will be all the difference, hopefully, between The Blizzard of ’78 and what is shaping up to be the Blizzard of 2015.

Homes ravaged by the storm along
Peggotty Beach, Scituate,
 Blizzard of '78
Photo unattributed found here 
 That being said, we are not in danger of falling into the ocean here, and with some common sense (don’t drive during the storm and prepare for possible outages) just about everyone around here should be able to “weather” this just fine.  

So here are the highlights:

First, according to NOAA, a “major and potentially historic winter storm” will affect our region Monday night into Tuesday night, even continuing into early Wednesday. The worst of the storm looks to occur Monday night into Tuesday afternoon, during which time “travel may become impossible and life threatening.”

The signs are pretty much a textbook case for a major winter storm/blizzard in Southern New England, as low pressure bombs out and tracks up the New England coast. This highly amplified pattern will allow for a slow moving/long duration storm. In addition, high pressure across Eastern Canada will supply plenty of cold air for the storm to work with. Drier weather follows Wednesday into early Thursday, but we will have to watch for another chance of snow by the end of the work week.  (Late January through February typically brings our biggest storms, so more storms on the horizon should be no surprise, right?)

Like the Blizzard of ’78, Tuesday’s coastal storm will likely have the strongest impact on the eastern part of the state and coastal areas, which are currently under a Blizzard Watch. The eastern part of the state will likely see 1-2 feet of snow or more, damaging winds (mostly on the Cape and Islands), and significant coastal flooding. Almost all of Massachusetts is at “ground zero for the heaviest snow.” The models are in very good agreement, all showing 1 to 2 feet of snow for much of the region, including around here. There may even be areas (mostly higher elevations) that exceed 2 feet where localized banding sets up. Damaging northeast wind gusts of 45 to 60 mph will be felt across eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with gusts between 60 to 70 mph expected across the Cape and Islands.

A WINTER STORM WATCH has been issued for Central and Western Massachusetts and Northern Connecticut, where 1-2 feet of snow is expected. It’s possible this may be upgraded to a Blizzard Watch/Warning, but it’s too early to know for sure how much wind will mix across our region. If the storm tracks to the east, the highest snow amounts may never materialize around here, and if it tracks to the west, we’ll get even more snow. (The track presents an even more tricky forecast scenario for the Cape and Islands, which could be either all rain or all snow based on the storm track.)

By the time the storm comes to an end early Wednesday morning and the cleanup begins, we may already be anticipating another winter storm later Thursday or Friday. Fun times, right? (And we really do mean that!)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ice Fishing on Puffer's Pond

Ice Fishing on Puffer's Pond, February 2013
(on an unusually uncrowded day)
Photo by S. Vardatira
Great day for ice fishing at Puffer's. Friend just called from his folding chair on the pond to report 12" thick ice and "lots of fish" biting. He's caught 6 fish so far (trout or bass, I forgot to ask). If you go, don't tell anyone you read this here. I've noticed that fisherfolk don't really want the crowds! :)

Calm, peaceful, falling snow

About 30 seconds of snow falling this morning. No one crashes through the porch, you won't see a cat squeezing herself into a tiny box, and no dash cam singing. Just calm, peaceful, falling snow. 

(If you receive Head in the Clouds postings by email, which don't transmit video images, you can see the video here.)

January 24, 2015

Beautiful snowy morning

Snow Morning, Amherst MA (1/24/2015)
Photo by S. Vardatira
Beautiful, snowy morning here in Amherst. And for a change, no freezing rain or ice! If you haven't shoveled yet, now is the time. Contrary to advanced warnings, what's fallen so far in Amherst is very fluffy and light snow (just shy of 6" here on the Amherst/Pelham border). So even though it's still coming down, it's easy to get ahead - and if precip gets heavier and wetter as this winds down in the next few hours, you'll be glad you took away this base.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Snow tomorrow, but no need to panic

Leaf on Ice, 1/22/2015 (N. Amherst MA)
Photo by S. Vardatira
If you've been watching weather forecasts, you may well be thinking "The Big One" is about to descend on us. So take a deep breath and remind yourself that everything you are hearing does NOT necessarily apply to Hampshire County. No, the timing of the tides will have absolutely no effect on us (unless you are on the Cape tomorrow), and we are not - at least by the current computer models - going to get walloped like the folks in the Worcester Hills. That being said, the computer models have not exactly been dependable for us this winter. How many forecasts for warm, balmy, rainy weather have actually turned out to be an entire day of freezing rain? So, once again, don't bet your snow shovels on this forecast. There's a high degree of uncertainty, which is somewhat unusual this close to the main event. In other words, be prepared for anything, but don't panic.

Right now, a WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY has been issued for our area (western Hampden, Hampshire and eastern Franklin Counties), in effect from midnight tonight to 7 PM Saturday. Since yesterday, computer models have sped up the onset of precipitation and storm impacts to the entire region. In addition, models now have this weekend's system running slightly closer to the coast - meaning somewhat more snow here than predicted yesterday. But there is still a great deal of uncertainty on snow amounts and where the rain/snow/mix transition line of precipitation will be. 

Based on current model trends - and keep in mind that this could change in any direction - we are expected to get somewhere in the vicinity of 4-6" of snow. Snowfall amounts fall off quickly to our north and west (western Franklin County is currently expected to receive just 1-3" of snow). What makes our 4-6" amount interesting (and more annoying than you might imagine) is that snowfall will be heavy and wet, which will likely cause isolated pockets of tree and wire damage and power outages. So keep all that in mind as you plan for Saturday. And keep positive - so far, freezing rain has not entered into the mix of possibilities tomorrow. And I'll take it!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Snowstorm this weekend? Don't change your plans just yet...

Puffer's Pond "Skating Rink"
Taken by S. Vardatira, 1/20 (afternoon)
Yes, there's buzz all around about the potential for a snowstorm this weekend, but absolutely don't change your plans just yet. Computer models are all over the place on this one. The storm is a coastal one, which means it's all about the storm track. (Note to self: write spoof lyrics to "It's all about the bass.") Storm tracks slightly to the east and it decisively misses us. To the west, and we get something. But what? At this moment (and things could change, mind you) computer models are showing rain on the coast, with the risk of a narrow band of heavy, wet snow, most likely near and northwest of I-95 into the Worcester Hills and Eastern Connecticut. As for Western MA, the precipitation looks like it might drop off considerably (if not entirely) - in other words, we could very well get nothing at all.

Like I said, things could change if the storm track changes, but even if it were to come our way, this wouldn't be the fluffy snow of your dreams. I, for one, will do fine without heavy wet snow followed by zero-degree temps early next week. Really, it's enough of a skating rink around here already.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Will it or won't it snow-sleet-freezing-rain tomorrow?

Another tricky will-it-or-won't-it rain, snow, freezing rain for tomorrow morning (Sunday). Although yesterday's computer models were inching towards a repeat of the pattern we've been oh-so-enjoying (snow-sleet-freezing rain for hours), right now the models are converging in the direction of mostly rain. Tomorrow's set-up shows warming at all levels and temperatures quickly rising during the day.

Of course, there is that nagging caveat in the NWS area forecast discussion: "Can't rule out cold air trapped in some of the valleys of Western and Central Massachusetts." (And that would mean sleet and freezing rain, in case you weren't reading between the lines.)

So while all indications point to a rainy day tomorrow - and not freezing rain, don't bet the farm on that. And still, forecasts are predicting that precipitation will likely start out as snow or a rain/snow mix north of Hartford, quickly changing to rain by midday, and a significant amount at that (.75-1.5 inches in our area). After midnight on Sunday, winds will shift to westerly, bringing enough cold air to change the rain back to snow briefly before ending.

I'm not saying it won't go EXACTLY like that, but I'll believe it when I see it. And keep the salt/ice melt stuff handy just in case.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Moon at Twilight

Just added a new photo, taken by Head in the Clouds contributor Marian Wolfsun, to our "Through the Lens" page. Moon shots are always tricky to capture, but this photo beautifully evokes the waning day, crescent moon, and winter trees/sky. Thank you, Marian! (For more from Marian, check out our "Weather Cooks" page - she is almost entirely responsible for all the recipes found there.)

"Moon at Twilight" (Amherst, MA)
Photo by Marian Wolfsun, 12/25/2014

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Windswept Snow, Icy Fields (Video)

Windswept, icy fields of shade tobacco farm in Hadley, Massachusetts. High winds (25-35 mph sustained) coupled with falling temperatures ahead of a cold front made for this stunning (albeit cold) scene. The force of the wind made it hard to hold the camera steady. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Windswept Farm on Ice

Windswept shade tobacco farm in Hadley MA this afternoon. Yes, it's cold, with sub-zero wind chills - but there are amazing sights along the way (as long as you have shelter to retreat to).

Hadley MA, 1/7/2015 - Photo by S. Vardatira

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cold and Colder Yet to Come

And you think it's cold out now? By tomorrow evening, it gets truly cold. A WIND CHILL WATCH is currently in effect for our area from Wednesday evening through Thursday morning for wind chill readings as low as -25 to -30 F. By end of work on Wednesday, wind chills will be -15, and by Thursday at noon, wind chills will climb above -15. (In other words, it will still be cold on either side of the overnight.) The actual - not wind chill - temperature on Wednesday night will drop to -6 F.

Keep in mind that wind chill values near minus 25 degrees mean that frostbite is possible within 15 minutes.To protect yourself:
- Stay dry. Wet clothing results in much faster heat loss from your body. Wear waterproof insulated boots.
- Stay covered. Wear mittens or gloves and wear a hat. At least half of your body heat is lost if your head is not covered.
- Dress layered. Trapped air between loose fitting clothing helps to insulate.