WHAT: A powerful and dangerous winter storm is poised to impact New Jersey this weekend. The potential exists for over a foot of snow, tropical storm force winds and storm surge of three to four feet.
WHEN: Beginning Friday evening, expect heavy snow, high winds, beach erosion and coastal flooding. Snow ends Sunday morning.
WHY: We are inching closer to the onset of this season’s first significant winter weather event, and closer yet to a forecast with the final solution! There is good agreement across the computer model suite on the timing, intensity and general track of the storm. Mesoscale details, such as where the best banding of heavier precipitation, and where rain or sleet may mix in times still need to be ironed out. These smaller scale features will have a major impact on snowfall totals for some, but it is clear that New Jersey must brace for a high impact winter storm, statewide.
The surface low is currently sliding across the Rocky Mountains into the southern Plains, where it will gradually strengthen and tap into Gulf of Mexico moisture as it trucks east. The path the system takes across the deep South before climbing the eastern seaboard is that of a classic “Miller A” snowstorm. These storms are historically some of New Jersey’s most prolific snow makers. The most famous example in fact is the Blizzard of 1996, which spread up to 30 inches across the state. One tool that meteorologists can use is analog forecasting, wherein the upper level air patterns of the forecast weather are compared to the upper level patterns of past major events to try to decipher how a predicted storm will unfold. The best analog “match” for this weekend’s storm is indeed the famed Blizzard of ’96.
Friday daytime will be snow free. New Jersey can get a normal day’s business in, although you can expect the food and hardware stores to be mob scenes. By Friday evening, light snow is beginning in Cape May County, probably just around dark. Snow will creep north slowly through the evening, but once it starts, it will quickly increase to a steady rate. By daybreak on Saturday, we are in the thick of it, with the low pressure centered just off the coast of Virginia. At 990 mb or so, interaction with a 1030 mb high pressure center in southeast Canada will force the winds to really crank, particularly along the coast. Expect sustained winds in excess of 35 mph along the coast, with gusts to 50 mph. Inland, winds will not be as intense, but could be strong enough to break branches and cause power outages. It snows throughout the day, with the winds peaking midday Saturday. Ocean surface temperatures are above normal, so a change to rain for locations east of the Parkway and south of Monmouth County, as well as all Cape May County is likely for a time. The exact surface low track will determine whether winds are more directly easterly (warmer) or northeast (cooler), as well as how long the rainfall will persist and cut into snow totals at the shore.
Frankly, the shoreline has bigger concerns. To quote my colleagues at the NWS-Mount Holly office, “planning should now be taking place to minimize the adverse impact of what ‘may’ be a top five coastal flood event in our record keeping, dating back through at least the 1940s.” Current storm surge projections for Saturday are three to four feet, and that comes on top of a high tide that will already be running about a foot above normal due to the full moon. The stage is set, should the wind direction be conducive for piling up water in the inlets, channels and bays, for moderate to major flooding. Coastal residents should be preparing for this immediately! The greatest threats coincide with the high tides, which will be between 7 and 8 o’clock in the morning and evening for most of New Jersey, the Delaware Bay and Long Island.
As Saturday progresses, the surface low slowly trudges northeast and then east, its pole-ward progression halted by a blocking pattern to the north, as well as the upper level cutoff low’s tendency to try to keep the surface low tucked nearby. Our nor’easter at this point will be a fully mature system, with strong bands of precipitation wrapping back toward New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, even as the surface low is shunted east. These bands can produce very heavy snowfall rates, but they tend to cut down on snowfall intensity immediately adjacent to them. Snow and rain are produced by lifting air vertically. What goes up, must come down and so sinking air adjacent to these bands may halt snowfall completely at times for some Saturday afternoon and evening. As a result, the snowfall map included here gives a good overall idea of totals, but areas under the bands will reach the higher end of the ranges, while those a town or two over will likely be robbed somewhat. Some one in central or interior southern New Jersey will wind up with close to 20 inches depending on where the banding sets up. We won’t know that for sure until it is happening.
Snow continues intermittently Saturday late night and into early Sunday morning, before gradually dissipating and clearing in the afternoon. Temperatures will be in the mid-30s and winds will remain brisk as we dig, blow and plow out. Hopefully our friends and family down the shore do not need bailing out. Continue to pay close attention and prepare. It’s going to be an exciting couple of days, weather-wise.