January 2018 North American blizzard

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January 2018 North American blizzard
Category 1 "Notable" (RSI: 2.55)
Satellite image of a sprawling cloud structure centered horizontally. Cuba is visible on the bottom-left of the image while the eastern United States is visible on the left.
GOES-16 satellite image of the blizzard rapidly deepening off the Northeastern United States at 13:45 UTC (8:45 a.m EST) on January 4, 2018.
Type Extratropical cyclone
Nor'easter
Bomb cyclone
Winter storm
Ice storm
Blizzard
Formed January 2, 2018 (2018-01-02)
Dissipated January 6, 2018 (2018-01-06)
Lowest pressure 949 mb (28.02 inHg)
Highest winds
  • 1-minute sustained:
    150 km/h (90 mph)
Highest gust 203 km/h (126 mph) in Saint-Joseph-du-Moine, Nova Scotia
Maximum snowfall or ice accretion Snowfall – 24.0 in (61 cm) in Bathurst, New Brunswick
Ice – 0.5 in (1.3 cm) in Brunswick, Georgia[1]
Damage $1.1 billion (2018 USD)[2]
Power outages ≥ 300,000
Total fatalities 22 confirmed
Areas affected Southeastern United States, Northeast, New England, Atlantic Canada
Part of the 2017–18 North American winter

The January 2018 North American blizzard was a powerful blizzard that caused severe disruption along the East Coast of the United States and Canada. It dumped snow and ice in places that rarely receive wintry precipitation, even in the winter, such as Florida and Georgia, and produced snowfall accumulations of over 2 feet (61 cm) in the Mid-Atlantic states, New England, and Atlantic Canada. The storm originated on January 3 as an area of low pressure off the coast of the Southeast. Moving swiftly to the northeast, the storm explosively deepened while moving parallel to the Eastern Seaboard, causing significant snowfall accumulations. The storm received various unofficial names, such as Winter Storm Grayson, Blizzard of 2018 and Storm Brody. The storm was also dubbed a "historic bomb cyclone".[3]

On January 3, blizzard warnings were issued for a large swath of the coast, ranging from Norfolk, Virginia all the way up to Maine. Several states, including North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts declared states of emergency due to the powerful storm. Hundreds of flights were canceled ahead of the blizzard. Overall, 22 people were confirmed to have been killed due to the storm, and at least 300,000 residents in the United States lost power in total.

Meteorological synopsis[edit]

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

Early on January 1, the Weather Prediction Center (WPC) began to anticipate the possibility of a northward-tracking area of low pressure that would bring wintry precipitation to much of the East Coast of the United States in the first week of January,[4] exacerbating an extended period of anomalously cold weather.[5] Due to modeling confining of precipitation to relatively narrow bands at the time, initial forecasts on the storm's impacts were uncertain.[4] The storm's development was forecast to originate from the eastward progression of a shortwave trough originating from the northern Rocky Mountains,[6] strengthening due to the presence of a longwave trough situated over the Eastern United States.[7] However, as the anticipated event drew closer, the system's genesis grew increasingly complex with the development of two separate disturbances in the jet stream over the upper Mississippi Valley and the eastern extent of the Rocky Mountains; these two would shape the eventual coverage of wintry precipitation associated with the storm.[5] As the troughs pushed eastward, frontogenesis along the trough and a resulting increase in moisture allowed for freezing rain to commence over areas of northern Florida and southern Georgia early on January 3.[8] Later that day, rapid cyclogenesis led to the formation of the forecast low-pressure area north of the Bahamas and east of Jacksonville, Florida,[9] with cloud cover quickly expanding to the north and east ahead of the storm's center; consequently, the WPC began issuing regular storm summaries at 21:00 UTC (4:00 p.m. EST) on January 3.[10]

After forming, the extratropical cyclone continued to explosively deepen, tracking northward parallel to the United States East Coast.[11] By the morning of January 4, the powerful storm system had deepened by 53 mbar (hPa; 1.57 inHg) in 21 hours—one of the fastest rates ever observed in the Western Atlantic[12]—to a pressure of 952 mbar (hPa; 28.11 inHg), with a coastal cold front focusing heavy snowfall and thundersnow along immediate coastal regions.[13] The drop in pressure was over twice the threshold (24 mbar (hPa; 0.71 inHg) in 24 hours) for bombogenesis.[14] Onshore, the inland extent of wintry precipitation gradually increased as the storm intensified.[15] As the day progressed, the development of several intense snowbands allowed for heavy snowfall rates of up to 3 in (7.6 cm) per hour over New England,[16][17] which were enhanced further by the influx of warm low-level air due to the cyclone's circulation.[18] The storm bottomed out at a pressure of 950 mbar (hPa; 28.05 inHg) when it was centered about 120 mi (190 km) southeast of Nantucket Island.[19] The cyclone's intensity held steady as it moved north into the Bay of Fundy late on January 4.[1] Afterwards, it began weakening and ultimately dissolved into a trough on January 6.

Preparations and impact[edit]

All weather alerts issued by the NWS from January 2–5 in the Eastern U.S. during the winter storm
January 2018 North American blizzard watches and warnings.png
 Blizzard warning
 Winter storm warning
 Winter weather advisory

The blizzard produced snowfall and other forms of frozen precipitation across much of the United States Eastern Seaboard. As of the WPC's fifth winter storm summary, the highest official snowfall amount recorded is 17.0 in (43 cm) in Cape May Court House, New Jersey; however, a snowfall total of 52 centimetres (20 in) was reported Bathurst, New Brunswick. Freezing rain totals peaked at 0.5 in (1.3 cm) in Brunswick, Georgia and near Folkston, Georgia.[19] At least twenty-two fatalities were attributed to the storm, including at least eight car accident-related deaths. At least 4,020 flights were cancelled across the United States, with a majority of cancellations caused by the extensive winter storm.[20] Insurers estimate that claims relating to coastal flooding from the storm will be more than those from snow-related damage.[21]

Southeastern United States[edit]

Florida and Georgia[edit]

Snow cover at the National Guard armory in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Several campuses of Florida A&M University and Florida State University, as well as a number of other Florida universities and school districts, announced closures for January 3.[22] Governor of Georgia Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 28 counties.[23] Accumulating snowfall fell in Savannah, Georgia for the first time since February 2010,[23] while Tallahassee, Florida received measurable frozen precipitation, though barely measurable and short-lived, for the first time since 1989.[24] The snowfall forced the closure of Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, cancelling 78 incoming and outgoing flights.[25] Ice accumulation was reported as far south as northern Levy County, Florida.[26] Widespread power outages affected much of the Southeast U.S. coast during the storm's infancy; nearly 100,000 electricity customers were without power in the Florida-Georgia border region,[27] including over 6,000 in Glynn County, Georgia. Heavy icing downed trees and power lines throughout St. Simons Island, Georgia, causing extensive power outages.[28] Power outages impacted Nassau County, Florida to a similar extent, prompting the opening of an emergency shelter in Hilliard, Florida.[29] Other cold weather shelters throughout the area were opened by county officials, the Salvation Army, and other non-governmental organizations.[30] Four Central Florida counties also opened cold weather shelters.[31] Icy conditions forced numerous road closures, including an 80 mi (130 km) stretch of Interstate 10 between Tallahassee, Florida and Live Oak, Florida. All lanes of Interstate 75 in Hamilton County, Florida to facilitate de-icing.[32]

Empire State Building during a snow storm
The Empire State Building barely visible from the 12th floor of an office building 2 blocks north during the peak of the storm due to near whiteout conditions.

The Carolinas[edit]

Snowfall in South Carolina peaked at 7.3 in (19 cm) in Summerville.[13] Charleston recorded the third highest daily snowfall total in its history at 5.3 in (13 cm) and the highest total since 1989.[33][13][26] The runways of Joint Base Charleston, used jointly with Charleston International Airport, were closed by the United States Air Force. A state of emergency was declared and a curfew enforced for much of Dorchester County.[33] On January 4, the South Carolina National Guard was deployed to assist impacted areas and the South Carolina Highway Patrol and South Carolina Department of Transportation to recover vehicles.[34] One person was killed in a traffic collision on Interstate 95 in Clarendon County due to icy road conditions following the storm's passage.[35] Governor of North Carolina Roy Cooper activated the state's emergency operations center on January 3 and declared a state of emergency for 54 counties.[36] Due to the inclement conditions, 66 North Carolina school districts issued cancellations, affecting thousands of students.[37] Local snowfalls in excess of 0.5 in (1.3 cm) occurred across the eastern half of the state. Wilmington, North Carolina observed 3.8 in (9.7 cm) of snowfall, marking the city's highest total since 2011. Along the Outer Banks, gusts in excess of 70 mph (110 km/h) caused rough seas, resulting in coastal flooding. Water levels rose 3 ft (0.91 m) above normal in Buxton, North Carolina.[26] Four people were killed in the state, including two each in Moore and Beaufort counties and one in Surf City. At the height of the storm, around 20,000 utility customers lost power in the state.[37] Poor driving conditions resulted in around 900 vehicle crashes across North Carolina.[38]

Mid-Atlantic states[edit]

Aftermath of the blizzard in Newington, Virginia.

Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency in the state on January 3.[39] In Virginia Beach, the storm maintained gusts of 50–55 mph (80–89 km/h) for several hours.[12] In one 24-hour period, 118 crashes occurred in the Hampton Roads area, with another 121 disabled vehicles reported.[40] Across the entirety of the state, Virginia troopers responded to 245 vehicular collisions.[41] Gusts in the Hampton Roads area peaked at 69 mph (111 km/h) in Tangier, with lesser gusts farther inland.[42] Due to the local geography, water levels in Chesapeake Bay fell in response to the storm's circulation passing to the east; the Patapsco River near Fort McHenry fell 3.49 ft (1.06 m) below the mean low water level, reaching its lowest height since 1989.[43] The United States Coast Guard restricted maritime access to the Port of Baltimore from the evening of January 3 into January 5.[44]

New York City encountered 30 mph winds, and JFK Airport temporarily suspended flights due to whiteout conditions. Central Park reported 9.8 inches (250 mm) of snow.[45] Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for Westchester County, New York City, and Long Island.[46]

Waves breaking in Jeddore Harbour during the storm on January 5.

New Jersey experienced as much as 17.0 inches (430 mm) of snow in some places, with Islip on Long Island, NY reaching 16 inches (410 mm) of snow; however, tropical storm-force winds blew the snow into banks as high as 3 feet (0.91 m) in certain areas.

New England[edit]

Being the most geographically proximate to the storm's track, Massachusetts bore the highest impacts of all American states. Winds gusted to hurricane-force at 76 miles per hour (122 km/h) on Nantucket and over 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) on mainland Massachusetts.[47]

At least 17.0 inches (430 mm) of snow fell on the Boston area, and 14.1 inches (360 mm) fell in Providence, Rhode Island. In Boston, a storm tide of 15.16 ft (4.62 m) was recorded during the blizzard which flooded areas of the financial district, including a subway station.[48][49] This beat the previous record set in 1978 by the Blizzard of 1978.[48] Significant coastal flooding occurred in Maine and New Hampshire.[12]

Atlantic Canada[edit]

After ravaging New England, the storm moved on to Atlantic Canada on January 4 and 5. Heavy snow fell in New Brunswick, peaking at 60 centimetres (24 in) in Bathurst. Sydney reported snowfall rates of up to 8 cm per hour, in heavy bands of thundersnow. While snowfall amounts closer to the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia were very low, winds gusting up to 203 km/h (126 mph) were reported in Saint-Joseph-du-Moine, causing widespread power outages. At the peak of the storm, nearly 130,000 Nova Scotia Power customers were left without power, while in New Brunswick, around 19,000 NB Power customers were left without power. Offshore waves reached heights of 16 m (52 ft).[50]

Bermuda[edit]

On 5 January 2018, the storm was also responsible for a persistent thunderstorm that brought 1.84 inches (47 mm) of rain and gale force winds to the island of Bermuda. However, due to the island’s latitude, no sub-zero temperatures were felt. There were wind gusts of up to 52 miles per hour (84 km/h; 45 kn).[51]

Cruise ships[edit]

On 4 January 2018, both the Norwegian Breakaway and the Norwegian Gem traveled through the storm causing major flooding in passenger staterooms. The Breakaway, with 4,000 passengers, was sailing from the Bahamas back to New York City when it sustained flooding throughout the passenger cabins as well as elevators and the hallways. Some rooms were so badly flooded that some passengers slept in the public spaces. Footage of the ordeal showed the sides of the ship being hit by waves as high as 30 feet (9.1 m). At some points in the trip, the ship tilted so much that some passengers fell out of their beds. There was widespread damage to the interior as glasses fell out of shelves and some furniture toppled over. Paintings in the art gallery could be seen falling off the walls as the ship tilted to the shape of the waves. Seasickness was widespread as guests could be seen vomiting. While the Norwegian Cruise Line did formally apologize, some guests were traumatized to the point of refusing to cruise again. The incident has sparked outrage, with some customers threatening a class action lawsuit. The ship’s late arrival cut the following 14-day cruise short by one day.[52][53][54]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Benfield, Aon. "Global Catastrophe Recap - May 2018" (PDF). Aon Benfield. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  3. ^ Samenow, Jason (January 4, 2018). "Historic 'bomb cyclone' unleashes blizzard conditions from coastal Virginia to New England. Frigid air to follow". Washington Post. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Petersen, Daniel (January 1, 2018). "Probabilistic Heavy Snow and Icing Discussion 08:17Z January 1, 2018". Winter Weather Forecast Discussion. College Park, Maryland: National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center. Archived from the original on January 3, 2018. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  5. ^ a b Musher, Michael (January 2, 2018). "Probabilistic Heavy Snow and Icing Discussion 21:45Z January 2, 2018". Winter Weather Forecast Discussion. College Park, Maryland: National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center. Archived from the original on January 3, 2018. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
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  50. ^ Inc., Pelmorex Weather Networks. "Hurricane force winds, 50+ cm of snow slams the Maritimes". The Weather Network. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  51. ^ Owain Johnston-Barnes (2018-01-05). "Storm Grayson blamed for poor weather | The Royal Gazette:Bermuda News - Mobile". Mobile.royalgazette.com. Retrieved 2018-01-10.
  52. ^ ""It was hell for me": Woman recalls cruise ship ride during "bomb cyclone"". CBS News. Retrieved 2018-01-10.
  53. ^ "Norwegian Cruise Sailed Through Thick Of Winter Storm « CBS New York". Newyork.cbslocal.com. 2018-01-05. Retrieved 2018-01-10.
  54. ^ "Norwegian Cruise Line passengers on ship that sailed through 'bomb cyclone' describe 'nightmare' ride". Fox News. 2018-01-06. Retrieved 2018-01-10.