Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter Hurricane

(Reuters) - "The U.S. Northeast started digging itself out of a blizzard that dumped up to 40 inches of snow with hurricane force winds, killing at least nine people and leaving about half a million customers without power."

Dr. Jeff Masters: "A historic Nor'easter roared through New England overnight, bringing snowfall measured in feet, not inches, hurricane-force wind gusts, and serious coastal flooding. The snow was heaviest in coastal Connecticut, where snowfall rates of 6"/hours were recorded, and an astonishing 40" piled up in Hamden. An all-time snowfall record was set in Portland, Maine, where 31.9" fell, and numerous cities in the Northeast recorded top-ten snowfall amounts, including Hartford, CT (2nd all-time with 22.3"); Worchester, MA (3rd all-time, with 28"); Providence, RI (8th all-time, with 17"); Concord, NH (2nd all time, with 24"), and Boston, MA (6th all-time, with 21.8.")

The great storm, dubbed "Nemo", bombed out to a central pressure of 971 mb at 7 am EST Saturday, February 9. This is the type of central pressure one sees in Category 1 hurricanes, and Nemo generated numerous hurricane-force wind gusts along the coast, including a 76 mph gust at Boston's Logan Airport. Significant wave heights of 30' were measured in Massachusetts Bay, and 35.4'at the Cape Ann Buoy 44098, off the east coast of Massachusetts...

The high winds from the storm drove a damaging storm surge into the coast of Eastern Massachusetts Friday night and Saturday morning. Hardest hit was the coast of Cape Cod Bay southeast of Boston, where major flooding forced residents of low-lying areas to evacuate. A storm surge in excess of four feet inundated roads, damaged coastal buildings, and caused severe beach erosion."

The global heating relationship to this storm is probably most obvious in the warmth of the ocean leading to snow but also winds.  Higher sea levels mean higher storm surges.  Here's one piece on the global heating contribution, and here's another.

This storm is also notable for the response.  The New York and New England state governments closed highways and roads in advance of the storm, quickly issued emergency declarations when it hit, and used new sophisticated means for dealing with it, like GPS on emergency vehicles and snowplows, with computer mapping of affected areas and where the vehicles were.

That these governors and governments are doing this is encouraging because a lot more can and must be done to minimize deaths, suffering and damage of these less and less rare but larger and larger weather events.

Fortunately this storm hit chiefly in these Blue states where governments take their responsibilities seriously, plan and spend money to prepare.  Other states may not be so prepared, and the consequences may be even greater.  

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