A large chunk of real estate from Long Island through Southeast New England received a crippling snow storm with many areas recording more than 2 feet of snow, some locals even exceeding 3 feet. Along with the extremely heavy snow came strong- gusty winds, up to hurricane-force, producing whiteout conditions, blowing snow and huge snow drifts. As a result of this storm, power outages were in excess of one-half million,nearly 5000 cancelled flights and plenty of stranded cars, hundreds of which were seen on the Long Island Expressway.

The heaviest snowfall amounts were from central Long Island , cutting through central CT and into the eastern half of MA through southern ME.

The jackpot was Hamden, Ct with 40″;  New Haven had  34.3″.
A few other notable amounts,
Long Island: Upton: 30.3″; Islip Airport: 27.8″; Stony Brook: 27.5″.
MA:Worcester 28″; Fall River 24″; Boston Logan : 21.8″
ME: Portland: 31.9″

A little meteorology about the event and how the NYC area was spared the brunt of this storm and what happened in middle Long Island?

Kudos to the computer models which did a good job with this event, and of course, the superb European model (ECMWF), which shined again.This is the same model that did an outstanding job forecasting Hurricane Sandy last year.

It all started with low pressure near the North Carolina coast early on February 8th, which then moved northeast and toward south of New England by early evening. This track, although far east of New Jersey, was still just a bit too close for most of NJ/NYC/Long Island during a good portion of the daylight hours on the 8th, resulting in warmer air dragged off the Atlantic,and bringing predominately rain. There was some snow and sleet but only limited accumulations by around 5pm.  The N&W suburbs of NYC, extending into southeast New England,where temperatures were colder, caused precipitation to remain predominately as snow and therefore had a nice jump start with accumulations.

Meanwhile, as this was occurring, another disturbance or trough of low pressure was bringing snow to the Great Lakes area during the day(of the 8th). As this piece of energy slid east-bound and joined forces with the Atlantic low pressure that evening, that’s when the storm really started to crank up.  In other words, this shot of energy added “fuel to the fire” and caused the Atlantic low pressure to  deepen or strengthen, thus, creating a massive and intense storm. As the Atlantic low pressure intensified, the vertical lift was maximized, increasing snowfall rates, creating areas of thunder snow and also caused an increased pressure gradient ,meaning larger wind speeds and gusts which translated to hurricane- force wind gusts in some spots.

This storm also had a rather strong and fairly wide “deformation zone”. Without getting too technical, a deformation zone is an intense area of banded snow, caused by strong vertical ascent/uplift, and typically has rather intense snowfall rates, sometimes in the order of 1-3″ per hour(if not more), and a deformation zone is normally  found to the north and west of low pressure. A deformation zone, which also has the appearance of a “comma head”  is fairly typical in blizzards. However, in this case, the Great Lakes disturbance which fed into the Atlantic low pressure created a deformation area which widened or elongated, stretching far to the west and southwest of the Atlantic low by hundreds of miles. This prolonged the snow deep into the night and into the morning of the 9th.

The NYC area received an average of  8 to 12 inches from this blizzard, but why were they lucky enough to escape the BIG time snows?  The first reason is rather easy: Daytime rain and mixed precipitation on the 8th hampered snow accumulations,  which probably would have equated to about  6 inches of the white stuff.

The second reason is in regard to this “deformation zone” mentioned above. Although NYC was into the heavy banding and deformation snows for several hours during the night, it was on the western periphery of the zone and therefore, spent much less time as their neighbor’s to the north and east over Long island,CT and into MA.

Strangely, Long Island, especially over Central Suffolk County got walloped with snow, with over 2 feet reported in parts. Although Long Island was forecasted to see higher amounts since closer to the track of low pressure and expected to stay in the deformation zone for a longer period of time than NYC, nobody expected 30 inches of snow.  What happened?
In this case, I believe the very intense precipitation rates during the late afternoon and early evening (of the 8th) across central Long Island,rapidly cooled(or dynamically cooled ) the vertical column of air over central Long Island, hours ahead of schedule and it was enough to change to precipitation to heavy snow and sleet which piled up rather quickly. For example, at Islip Airport, there was 5 inches of snowfall in just 2 hours alone, from 4pm to 6pm, or almost .50″ of liquid equivalent in that time, which was quite impressive. Snowfall rates reached up to 3″ per hour at times, and there was 16 inches of snow on the ground at midnight, and counting…

After this blizzard, we all hope that furry little groundhog, who made the bold prediction of an early spring, will  indeed, be correct!

Meteorologist Brett Zweiback