Northeast U.S. Hunkers Down for Fierce Blizzard Bringing Up to Two Feet of Snow

by Jennifer Shea

In what forecasters are warning will be the worst blizzard in recent memory, a strong nor’easter is bearing down on New England and New York. It threatens to visit high winds, blistering cold, and up to two feet of snow on the region this weekend.

The storm took shape in the Atlantic Ocean near the Carolinas. Then it traveled up the East Coast. As it did, the governors of Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts declared states of emergency and advised residents to hunker down Saturday.

“This is going to be a very big storm, probably one of the biggest we’ve experienced in the last few years. Conditions are expected to make travel nearly impossible. And we’re urging everyone, to the extent possible, to stay home tonight and tomorrow,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said, per Reuters.

Forecasters also issued blizzard warnings for parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia.

Flights, Trains Canceled As Blizzard Approaches

By Saturday, airlines had canceled roughly 5,000 flights and delayed more than 8,000 in anticipation of the nor’easter. Amtrak shut down passenger rail service throughout most of the region. Local authorities implemented travel restrictions along some highways.

The nor’easter is likely to hit Massachusetts hardest. The National Weather Service sent out a blizzard warning for the Boston metropolitan area. It said “whiteout conditions” and high winds could cause serious damage. Southeastern Massachusetts, which includes Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, should get the highest snowfall.

The storm is shaping up to be something known as a “bomb cyclone,” or a low-pressure storm that suddenly gains momentum very quickly. Authorities fear major power outages in its wake.

What’s a Bomb Cyclone? Weather Phenomenon Explained

Sometimes nor’easters that show up off the Atlantic coast will suddenly pick up speed and intensity, bringing strong winds and heavy snow with them. Such storms become bomb cyclones. They’re a relatively rare but potentially destructive weather phenomenon.

From 1979 to 2019, just 7 percent of storms across North America became bomb cyclones, the Wall Street Journal reports. Bomb cyclones are a type of nor’easter. And they usually bring blizzard conditions with them.

As bomb cyclones form, the atmospheric pressure at the center of the storm plummets quickly in what is known as “bombogenesis.” As it does, the storm’s winds can reach hurricane-strength speeds of up to 75 miles per hour.

“As the central pressure falls rapidly, by extension there will also be an explosive intensification of the wind speeds,” John Gyakum, a McGill University meteorologist and the co-author of a seminal study on the key traits of bomb cyclones, told the Journal.

All told, this winter storm is shaping up to be a doozy. So while “bombogenesis” may sound fascinating to watch, for residents of the East Coast, now is not the time to be outdoors.