Major Winter Storm on Tap for Tuesday

20170311_snowmap_squareBy John Cifelli
NJTV News Meteorologist

– Over a foot of snow possible for much of New Jersey
– Begins before midnight Monday in far southern New Jersey, by daybreak statewide
– Coastal flooding and beach erosion likely as well
– Blizzard watches posted by NWS for Manhattan, Staten Island
– Winter Storm Watches hoisted elsewhere in New Jersey

Across the continent, elements are progressing from the Gulf States, middle America, the Pacific northwest and central Canada toward the Mid-Atlantic. In a day’s time they will coalesce over the eastern Mississippi Valley and off the Carolina coast, poised to deliver a high-impact winter weather event Monday night and Tuesday. These types of storms, which phase energy from multiple branches of the jet stream have the ability to produce historic results — be it snowfall, wind speeds or the myriad of human impacts that these elements deliver. These storms are also fragile situations, as subtle shifts in how the upper level features interact lead to notable changes in the actual weather. It takes a lot for a historic event to occur and such a scenario looks very possible Tuesday. However, given the fragile nature of the setup, and the anomalous time of year, forecast confidence at this point, still 48 hours out, is marginal.

New Jersey remains in the grip of an Arctic air mass Sunday and Monday. We are already below freezing statewide as of this writing, and headed for the low teens tonight. As our coastal low develops and approaches Monday night, twin powerful Arctic high pressures over the Great Lakes and in southeast Canada will continue to reinforce surface cold. As a result, despite being mid-March, I am confident that this will be a snow event for most, especially along and north of the Turnpike.

Shortly before midnight, snow begins in Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties. The system has the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic as moisture sources, so snow will come in like a wall. Moisture spreads northward across northern New Jersey and into New York City by dawn, as snow falling heavy right away.

Snow will transition to rain south of the Atlantic City Expressway and along the southern Parkway corridor before daybreak, while several inches of snow falls elsewhere. Snow continues for central and northern New Jersey into the early afternoon, while further south, rain and mixed precipitation will cut down on snow totals.

At this juncture, the storm track and duration cannot be pinpointed. The further east the low tracks, lesser amounts will be realized in northwest New Jersey, and the sooner colder air will turn rain and mix back over to snow in southern and coastal locations, increasing totals. Steady snow tapers off Tuesday afternoon, but as the trailing upper level low passes near the state later in the day, snow showers or light snow could linger periodically through the night.

For the coast, the winds are going to really lash the shore and build seas to the point where beach erosion is expected. The Tuesday morning high tide will bring moderate flooding, especially for ocean-facing inlets and bays in Cape May, Atlantic, and Ocean counties. Monmouth should dodge the worst. Winds may reach blizzard criteria along the shore. In fact, the Upton office of the National Weather Service has issued blizzard watches for Staten Island and Manhattan. I expect Mount Holly to follow for coastal Monmouth and Ocean counties.

The biggest question at this point is will this be a strong March nor’easter that keeps us at home for a day? Or will it write itself into the history books as one of the all time greats, at least for March? The potential is there for the latter. It seems odd to shrug off 10 to 12 inches — the low end of the snow ranges for the northern half of the state — as a humdrum snowstorm. With nine different storms dropping more than a foot of snow in parts of New Jersey in the last 15 years, it is easy to think it commonplace. Looking further back through New Jersey weather history, the truth is it is not. So perhaps the question instead should be “how historic” will Tuesday be, should tonight’s forecast verify? Stay tuned.