Blizzard of 2016: Fourth Most Powerful Snowstorm on Record in Northeast

The blizzard that slammed a large section of the northeastern US, including NYC, last weekend was one of the most powerful winter storms to hit the region in decades.

According to NOAA, the storm was given a value of 7.66 on the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS). That is considered a category 4 or “crippling” snow event.  It was also the 4th most powerful winter storm to impact the northeast since 1950.

Covering 434,000 square miles across 26 states, the storm impacted more than 102 million people. Of those, approximately 24 million people saw more than 20 inches of snow.

The region’s strongest storm on record was the so called “Super-Storm” of March 1993.

Source: NCEI

Source: NCEI

Source: NOAA

Source: NOAA

The Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale

Similar to the national Saffiir-Simpson Scale for hurricanes and the Enhanced Fujita Scale for tornadoes, major winter storms that occur in the northeastern US have a special rating system. It is called the North East Snowfall Impact Scale or NESIS.

Developed in 2004 by Paul Kocin and Dr. Louis Uccellini of the National Weather Service, the scale is used to rank and compare storms in the region. It classifies large snow events into one of five categories based on the size of the area covered, number of people affected, and snowfall totals. The higher the NESIS value, the more impactful the storm.

Source: NCEI

Source: NCEI

Blizzard of 2016: The Second Biggest Snowstorm on Record for NYC

A massive winter storm slammed the eastern United States this weekend. With some areas getting more than two feet of snow, records fell across the region.

Here in New York City, a whopping 26.8 inches of snow was measured in Central Park – the city’s second highest storm total since record keeping began in 1869. This storm, according to the NWS, was only one-tenth of an inch shy of tying the city’s all time record of 26.9 inches set in February 2006.

To put this event into perspective, consider that, on average, NYC normally sees 7 inches of snow during the month of January and 25.8 inches for the entire winter season.

The cause of this historic event involved a few key players.  First, an area of low pressure moved up the east coast funneling in relatively warm and humid air from the southeast. At the same time, an area of high pressure to the north pushed cold air south. When the two air masses met, the warmer air was forced to rise and cool. Since cool air holds less moisture than warm air, the moisture was wrung out of the atmosphere as precipitation – snow, in this case. While developing as a classic nor’easter, this storm gained an extra boost of both energy and moisture from a warmer than normal Atlantic Ocean. Sea surface temperatures off the coast have been running about 5°F to 6°F above average for this time of year.

The pressure differences between the low and high also produced powerful winds. In Central Park, wind gusts peaked at 42 mph.

Dramatically ending the region’s so-called snow drought and impacting tens of millions of people, this storm garnered a great deal of media attention. Known by a few different names – The Blizzard of 2016, Winter Storm Jonas, and Snowzilla – this storm will not be forgotten anytime soon, regardless of its moniker.

Credit: NWS/NOAA

Three of the city’s top five snow producing storms have occurred in the past ten years. Credit: NWS/NOAA

What is a Blizzard?

A blizzard is expected to blast a large part of the northeastern United States, including NYC, this weekend. Different than a typical winter storm, a blizzard is characterized more by its winds than the amount of snow it produces.

According to the NWS,  the three key factors in a blizzard are wind, visibility, and time. More specifically, they are:

  • Wind – Sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35mph or higher.
  • Visibility – Falling and/or blowing snow that reduces visibility to ¼ mile or less.
  • Time – Wind and reduced visibility conditions must prevail for at least 3 hours.

These conditions heighten the risk for power outages and often produce whiteout conditions on roadways, making travel extremely dangerous.  Stay Safe!

2015: Warmest Year on Record for Planet Earth

Its official!  2015 was the warmest year ever recorded on this planet.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the year – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.62°F. That is a staggering 1.62°F above the 20th century average. It smashed the previous annual record set just last year by 0.29°F – the largest margin on record. 2015 also marked the 39th consecutive year that our annual global temperature was above its long-term norm.

While a strong El Niño –a periodic natural climate phenomenon – influenced this record warmth, it does not tell the whole story. The long-term trend of human-caused climate change was also a key factor. NOAA reports that fifteen of the sixteen warmest years on record have occurred this century and they were not all El Niño years.

Although heat dominated most of the planet in 2015, some places were particularly warm, including North America. Here in the contiguous US, with an annual temperature of 54.4°F, which is 2.4°F above average, it was our second warmest year on record. Only 2012 was warmer in the lower forty-eight states.

Overall, having back-to-back record warm years is a somewhat rare event. But, as greenhouse gases – the main drivers of global warming – continue to spew into the atmosphere, our average global temperature will continue to rise and records will likely continue to fall. Global temperature records date back to 1880.


Sixteen Warmest Years on Record (1880–2015). Credit: NOAA.


2015: Warmest Year on Record. Credit: NOAA

December 2015: Warmest December on Record for Planet Earth

Like most of the US, including here in NYC, temperatures across the globe soared last month. In fact, December 2015 was Earth’s warmest December on record.

According to the latest report from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the planet’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56°F, which is a whopping 2°F above the 20th century average. It also marked the highest departure from average for any month on record, surpassing the previous record set this past October. Moreover, it was the 8th consecutive month this year to break a global temperature record.

Closer to home, the continental US was also record warm this December. Twenty-nine states – mostly in the east – reported record high temperatures for the month.

With December closing out the year, 2015 is now ranked as the warmest year this planet has seen since record keeping began in 1880.

Credit: NOAA

Credit: NOAA

First Snowfall of the Season for NYC

The first measurable snowfall of the 2015-2016 winter season has finally arrived in New York City!

According to the NWS, 0.4 inches fell in Central Park on Sunday. With the snow sticking only to grassy areas and parked cars, it was not a blockbuster event by any stretch of the imagination.  But, after this winter’s mild start, it was exciting to see flakes fill the air.

This first snowfall arrived rather late by local standards, but it was not the latest. That record belongs to January 29, 1973. On average, the city should have already seen about 9 inches of snow at this point in the season.

First Snowfall of the season in NYC

First snowfall of the season in NYC.  Credit: The Weather Gamut.

Hurricane Alex: A Rare January Storm in the Atlantic

January, a winter month in the northern hemisphere, is a time when we are usually talking about snowstorms. Nevertheless, Hurricane Alex, the first named storm of the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane season has officially formed.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Alex is the first Atlantic hurricane to form in January since 1938. With sustained winds of 85 mph, it is the second strongest January hurricane on record. Hurricane Alice, which formed at the end December 1954 and lasted through early January 1955, had winds that peaked at 90 mph.

Alex transitioned from a sub-tropical storm – a storm that has both tropical and non-tropical characteristics – into a fully tropical system on Wednesday and then strengthened into a category-one hurricane on Thursday morning.  This type of rapid intensification is usually associated with the storm moving over very warm ocean waters. In this case, however, the sea surface temperatures in the area were above average, but just barely warm enough to support tropical development. So, according to NOAA, Alex likely got an extra boost from an unstable atmosphere. The wide temperature spread between the warm surface air and a pocket of unusually cold air aloft encouraged convection and helped strengthen the warm core of this off-season storm.

Alex is currently located 490 miles south of the Azores and moving north-northeast at about 20 mph. It is expected to bring strong winds, heavy rain, and storm surge flooding to that archipelago over the next 24 hours.

The Atlantic hurricane season traditionally runs from June 1 to November 30th.

Hurricane Alex's forecast track. Credit: NOAA/NHC

The forecast track for Hurricane Alex. Credit: NOAA/NHC

Panel Discussion: “The Paris Climate Agreement – Our Take”

Last month’s climate change agreement, COP21, was an historic event. Nearly 200 countries came together and agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over time. Looking at ways to harness this positive momentum at the local level, the non-proft group, NYC Metro Climate Reality Leaders, is hosting a panel discussion this Tuesday, January 12th, at Civic Hall called, “The Paris Agreement: COP 21 – Our Take.”

As a member of the panel, I will be speaking about the benefits of cross-disciplinary collaborations in the arts and sciences. Offering observations and opinions from their own unique perspectives, my fellow panelists include:

Harriet Shugarman, Founder and Executive Director of Climate Mama will moderate the panel. Mrs. Shugarman and Simone Rothman, Founder and CEO of Future Air, are co-producers of the event.

The discussion begins at 5PM and will be followed a Q&A session. This event is free, but does require registration. Seats are limited.  Hope you can join us.

Civic Hall
156 Fifth Ave, 2nd Floor
(Between 20th and 21st Streets)
New York, NY 10010

First Arctic Blast of the Season for NYC

After a delayed start, winter is off and running in the northeastern US. An arctic outbreak has sent the region into a deep freeze with many cities dealing with the coldest temperatures they have seen all season.

Here in New York City, the mercury fell to 11°F in Central Park this morning – the coldest reading the city has seen since February of last year. The high only made it to 29°F.  While this type of cold pattern is not that uncommon in January, it feels rather jarring after a record warm December. The city’s normal high for this time of year is 38°F and the normal low is 27°F.

Produced by a deep dip in the jet stream, these current frigid conditions are not expected to last much longer. But, after a brief warm-up, another shot of arctic air is forecast to hit the city next week. Keep those coats and gloves handy!