Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:27 PM GMT on April 23, 2012
Heavy snow, high winds, and torrential rains are lashing the Northeast U.S. today, thanks to a powerful late-season Nor'easter approaching New York from the south. Wind gusts of 54 mph and 58 mph were recorded last night at New York City's La Guardia Airport and Staten Island, and heavy rains of 2 - 4 inches have been common across Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Southeast New York since Sunday. The 2.45" that fell at Central Park in New York City yesterday broke the old record of 1.80" for the date set in 1969. The heavy rains are a boon for the region, which is under moderate to severe drought. The storm delayed the arrival of the space shuttle Enterprise, which was due to be flown into New York City's JFK Airport today and loaded on a barge to be shipped to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on the Hudson River. The flight is now scheduled for Wednesday.
Figure 1. A late-season Nor'easter takes aim at the Northeast U.S. in this satellite image taken at 9:31 am EDT 4/23/12. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.
Heavy snow belting PA, NY, and WV
The big story with this Nor'easter is the heavy snow falling in Western Pennsylvania, Western New York, and the higher elevations in West Virginia. Wet, heavy snow of 6 - 12 inches will be common, particularly at elevations higher than 2,000 feet. Up to a foot of snow had already fallen in the Allegany Mountains of Western Pennsylvania as of 11 am EDT this morning, and 8.5" in the mountains of New York, according to the latest NWS Storm Summary. The wet, heavy snow is falling on regions where trees have already come into leaf, thanks to the surprise "Summer in March" heat wave that brought 80° temperatures to the Northeast over a month ago. High winds will accompany today's snow, and extensive tree damage and power outages can be expected. Winds have gusted as high as 39 mph this morning in Rochester, NY. Sustained north to northeast winds blowing off of Lake Ontario are expected to rise to 40 mph later today, creating waves up to 14 feet high, causing lake shore flooding problems.
History of late season snowfalls
Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt made a post last year on Record Late Season Snowfalls. He documents that the latest measurable snow in Buffalo, NY was 0.1" on May 20, 1907. Not including today, Buffalo has had ten calendar day snow events of an inch or more after the date of April 22nd. Recent events include May 7th, 1989 when 7.9 inches fell, and April 24th, 2005 when 1.2 inches of snow fell. In Rochester, NY, such events are slightly more common, with 18 such events of one inch of snow or greater after April 22nd. Recent events include April 25th, 1983, when 3.5 inches of snow fell, May 7th, 1989 when 10.7 inches of snow fell, and May 12th 1996, when 1.1 inches fell.
Two major Nor'easters this season: one in October, one in April
What's crazy about this Nor'easter is that it is only the second significant Nor'easter of the 2011 - 2012 snow season. The other major Nor'easter occurred October 30 - 31. It's pretty bizarre to have your only two significant Nor'easters of the season occur in October and April--and none in November, December, January, February, and March. I talked to a weather disaster expert in the insurance industry last week, who told me that NOAA's National Climatic Data Center will probably end up classifying last year's October 30 - 31 Nor'easter as 2011's fifteenth billion-dollar weather disaster.
Record April heat in Phoenix and Las Vegas
As is often the case when a major Nor'easter is affecting the Eastern U.S., the jet stream is contorted to bring a strong ridge of high pressure over the Western U.S., accompanied by record-breaking heat. Phoenix, Arizona hit 105°F yesterday, its tying its record for hottest April temperature (previous 105° April temperatures occurred on 4/20/1989 and 4/29/1992.) Las Vegas, Nevada hit 99°F yesterday, the hottest temperature on record for so early in the year, and tied for the hottest April temperature on record. The mercury climbed to a scorching 113° in Death Valley yesterday, a record for the date, and the hottest temperature measured in the U.S. so far in 2012.
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