Next winter storm could be a 'huge snowstorm for New England'

·6 min read

AccuWeather forecasters are keeping a close watch on a major winter storm expected to take shape along the Eastern Seaboard this weekend. New England is most likely to bear the brunt of the storm, but parts of the eastern Carolinas and major cities in the mid-Atlantic could at the very least feel a glancing blow from the storm.

The storm will rapidly intensify off the Atlantic coast, packing a lot of snow and wind on its backside, according to AccuWeather Chief On-Air Meteorologist Bernie Rayno.

"This could be a huge snowstorm for New England," Rayno said, adding that the threat for 6 inches of snow or more increases for locations farther north along the Eastern Seaboard, with New England facing the highest threat - and that includes from other hazards on top of the snowfall.

There is every indication that a storm will develop and strengthen off the southern Atlantic coast late this week. The storm could intensify enough from Friday to Saturday to be classified as a bomb cyclone as it moves northward toward New England.

A bomb cyclone, or bombogenesis, occurs when the central pressure of a storm crashes by 0.71 of an inch (24 millibars) or greater within 24 hours. When the pressure plummets, winds rush in toward the center of the storm at a faster pace. The winds can carry a great deal of moisture with them and unleash that in the form of copious amounts of precipitation. If the air is cold enough, heavy snow and blizzard conditions can ensue.

"The time of the year and the current pattern is ripe for an East Coast snowstorm this weekend," Rayno said.

Late January through early March are prime time for snowstorms in the coastal Northeast. There is usually a strong jet stream in place, and storms usually make the northward turn along the Atlantic coast. Colder waters compared to early January and December tend to allow storms to track in such a way as to raise the probability of heavy snow along the I-95 corridor, rather than moving too far to the west and causing rain or a wintry mix.

"Much of this winter, including the past two weeks, there have been multiple dips in the jet stream over the Midwest and Northeast. Most of the storms that have developed near the southern Atlantic coast have been pushed out to sea. The late-week pattern looks a little different in that the jet stream dip will orientate in such a way as to help guide the storm northward along the coast and not out to sea," Rayno explained.

At least part of New England is likely to have a major snowfall by way of a powerful nor'easter, but AccuWeather forecasters are still closely monitoring the storm's potential path and how close it will hug the coast, which will have a huge impact on the forecast for the mid-Atlantic and central Appalachians.

"All current evidence suggests that the storm will be close enough for at least a major New England snowstorm," Rayno said.

The full brunt of the storm's fury in terms of strong winds and heavy snow is likely to impact New England to neighboring parts of Canada. Power outages and coastal flooding are both concerns from the storm's winds alone, and major disruptions to travel would occur with heavy snow and substantial blowing and drifting snow in some areas. The storm could easily produce widespread frequent gusts between 40 and 60 mph or greater in coastal areas. In coastal locations where the strongest winds occur, wind gusts could reach hurricane force, forecasters say. Hurricane-force winds are rated as 74 mph or greater.

However, the exact track of the storm will not only determine which part of New England will be buried under a foot or more of snow but also whether part of the mid-Atlantic region could end up in the heavy snow zone or just face increasing dry and cold winds from the storm's backside.

"There is room for more of a western track which would push the heavy snow threat farther west across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast and would also introduce the possibility for a rain/snow mix or even just rain along part of the coast," Rayno explained.

A westward shift in the storm's path of as little as 50 miles could mean areas from the Delmarva Peninsula through much of New Jersey and southeastern New York, including New York City and Philadelphia, will pick up heavy snow and gusty winds that could lead to major travel disruptions. This same sort of track might allow rain or sleet to mix in on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and perhaps Boston and Long Island, New York, as well.

On the other hand, a track 50 miles farther to the east could mean an all-out blizzard for Boston and Cape Cod with very little, if any, snow for the mid-Atlantic.

Travel conditions can become treacherous as early as Friday night from the mid-Atlantic into southern New England, with deteriorating conditions spreading north through New England into Atlantic Canada Saturday. Travel could become impossible in some areas, and AccuWeather forecasters say it could take a while for conditions to improve. Travel may still be difficult to impossible on Sunday in the storm's wake, depending on the amount of snow that falls from the storm and the ongoing blowing and drifting of snow that slows down cleanup in the storm's aftermath.

People who live in or plan to travel through the mid-Atlantic this weekend are being urged by meteorologists to keep a close eye on the forecast, which could change in the coming days. The storm is expected to aim for the North Carolina coast and the Virginia capes on Friday night before it spreads northward early on Saturday.

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Some snow could fall on eastern areas of the Carolinas, but that will depend on the precise track of the storm as it forms near the southern Atlantic coast this weekend.

While a lot of attention may be on where the heaviest snow falls Saturday, AccuWeather forecasters also warn that one of the contributing factors that will allow the storm to form near the coast could cause some headaches farther north on Friday.

"The cold front that the coastal storm will eventually form along will spread some generally light, but accumulating snow across portions of the East during the day on Friday," said AccuWeather Meteorologist Jake Sojda. "This could create some slippery roads for interior portions of the Northeast into the Ohio Valley and Appalachians, which could catch some off guard a day before the big storm."

Nashville and Atlanta even face a small chance of a light accumulation of snow Thursday night into Friday as the jet stream begins to plunge in the East.

The brewing storm could result in ripple-effect flight delays and cancellations that stem outward from New England and perhaps the mid-Atlantic to much of the nation as crews and aircraft are displaced. Delays in shipping and deliveries could also cascade into the days that follow the storm.

In the immediate wake of the storm, another blast of Arctic air will sweep across the East, and could cause additional impacts such as a rapid freeze-up to wet or slushy surfaces. The harsh cold could also result in the potential for a frost or freeze frosts and freezes for areas as far south as Florida.

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