WEATHER

Winter hangs on: Mid-week storm bears down on NJ

BY John Cifelli, Meteorologist |
  • Light wintry mix expected Tuesday
  • Steadier snow begins around daybreak Wednesday
  • Over a foot possible in places
  • Power outages and coastal flooding likely

The forecast remains on track for a high-impact, long duration winter weather event. This storm brings the full gamut of impacts — heavy snow, gusty winds, coastal flooding and the threat of power outages. It’s looking increasingly likely to be a “1-2 punch,” with the times of highest impact being Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon, with a relative lull in between. All said and told, some parts of New Jersey will receive over a foot of snow, and it isn’t likely to be confined to the usual elevations of northwest New Jersey. In fact, I think this one could be an I-95 special, with the highest totals being a few miles on either side of the Turnpike corridor.

New Jersey will be clear and cold tonight, with temperatures in the 20s. That sets the stage for the first punch on Tuesday. A mid-level warm front will bring a round of precipitation across New Jersey throughout the day. It starts as snow and transitions to sleet as the front rises south to north across the state. Central and northern New Jersey could see a couple inches of accumulation of snow and sleet, while southern New Jersey will be plain rain after the front passes. There will be a lull, or even a complete end to the precipitation, for the first part of Tuesday night, before heavier precipitation moves back in across the area Wednesday morning. This period Tuesday evening brings the first wrinkle in the forecast that bears especially careful watching. As the mid-level warm front warms these levels to temperatures above freezing, the surface will remain near or drop below freezing around sunset. I’m concerned that there might be a narrow corridor of freezing rain in colder parts of Philadelphia and points south and east. A couple of tenths of ice accrual to greet people in this part of the state when they wake is bad enough. Add several inches of wet snow on top, and you have what could be the area under the greatest threat of power outages.

As the coastal low intensifies Wednesday morning, colder air in the mid-levels will move in and switch everyone to snow by noon or so. The period of heaviest snow will be late morning into late afternoon, not much unlike the other nor’easter this month. Expect snowfall rates of 1 to 2 inches and hour, particularly in a 20 to 30 mile wide swath just northwest of the rain/snow line. This is where I expect more than a foot of snow to fall by Wednesday evening as the event winds down. Extreme northwestern New Jersey may actually see a little bit less or be on the lower end of the 8 to 14 inch range that I am forecasting for them. Further south and east, morning rain and sleet will eat into snowfall accumulations, before the rain/snow line sweeps through the state early afternoon, giving all parts of the state some accumulation.

Where have I heard this script before, light snow in the morning followed by a period of heavy, accumulating snow in central and northern New Jersey in the afternoon and early evening. Ah yes, it was the same song and dance two weeks ago, also on a Wednesday. The one major difference I see this time around is the very slow movement of our coastal surface low. It doesn’t move much throughout the day on Wednesday, which means multiple high tide cycles after persistent easterly and northeasterly winds. This raises the threat of moderate or major coastal flooding, particularly for southern beaches and inlets.

Winds along the coast will gust beyond 35 mph, bringing blizzard conditions at times. If we learned anything two weeks ago, it’s that we would all be well-served to be prepared to be hunkered down for a day or two, and for the likelihood of widespread power outages. One has to hope that we’re starting to exhaust the supply of weak tree limbs eager to snap on our power infrastructure.