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Heavy snow, high winds, flooding for the Northeast; destructive Winter Storm Xynthia nears Europe

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 4:12 PM GMT on February 26, 2010

A major winter storm continues to pound the northern Mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S. today, as a powerful 979 mb low pressure system stalled out over Long Island Sound brings heavy snow, flooding rains, and high winds to the region. The storm dropped more than two feet of snow over Eastern New York near Albany, and surrounding regions of Western Massachusetts and Southern Vermont. One location in Vermont, West Halifax, received over three feet of snow--38.5". Heavy rains in excess of three inches has fallen over large sections of Northeast, including 8.38" at Scarborough, Maine. Rivers have spilled out of their banks over sections of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and southwestern Maine, resulting in many road closures. Sustained winds of 25 - 40 mph have been common all along the coast, with wind gusts in excess of 60 mph common in the Appalachian Mountains. The prize for most extreme weather goes to New Hampshire's Mount Washington. At midnight, the Mount Washington Observatory reported sustained winds of 104 mph, gusting to 123, visibility zero in moderate snow, and a temperature of 21°F.

Fourth greatest snow for New York City, and still accumulating
The storm has dumped 20.8" of snow on New York City's Central Park as of 1pm EST today, making it the 4th largest snowstorm for the city in recorded history. With another 1 - 3 inches likely for the city today, the storm should rank as the 3rd largest snowfall on record before it's over. According to the National Weather Service, the top ten snowstorms on record for New York City's Central Park should now read:

26.9" Feb 11-12, 2006
26.4" Dec 26-27, 1947
21.0" Mar 12-14, 1888
20.8" Feb 25-26, 2010
20.2" Jan 7-8, 1996
19.8" Feb 16-17, 2003
18.1" Mar 7-8, 1941
17.7" Feb 5-7, 1978
17.6" Feb 11-12, 1983
17.5" Feb 4-7, 1920

Figure 1. Total radar-estimated precipitation from this week's storm over Maine. A large swath of 4+ inches of precipitation has fallen on a wet snowpack, creating flooding problems.

Today's storm will linger and slowly weaken through Saturday, bringing an additional 6+ inches of snow over portions of southeast New York, western Connecticut, and western Massachusetts. The strong winds will die down by tonight, aiding the efforts of utility repair crews struggling to keep up with all the power outages created by combination of high winds and wet, heavy snow.

Next storm
The active storm pattern isn't going to change over the few weeks for the Eastern U.S. The next potential snowstorm will be Tuesday, and will affect the Southeast U.S. Although it is too early to be confident of the amount or type of precipitation this storm will bring, snow will be a possibility for northern Alabama, northern Georgia, and portions of North and South Carolina.

Destructive Winter Storm Xynthia headed for Europe
A large 1000 mb low pressure system named "Xynthia" is over the eastern Atlantic, and is expected to rapidly intensify Saturday morning into a meteorological "bomb" that will bring high winds and flooding rains to Portugal, northern Spain, and western France. The models are coming into better agreement now, and have shifted their position for the storm's maximum intensity eastwards. France is now in the bullseye, and the storm is predicted to be at maximum intensity on Sunday morning when it will be positioned over northwestern France. The storm's powerful cold front will sweep ashore south of the low, bringing sustained winds of 50 - 60 mph (80 - 95 km/hr) to the coast of France's Bay of Biscay, with gusts over hurricane force (120 km/hr). The central pressure at that time will range from 966 mb to 972 mb, according to two of our top computer models, the ECMWF and GFS. This is about the same intensify as last year's Winter Storm Klaus. Klaus, which hit northern Spain and southwest France January 23 - 25, was Earth's most costly natural disaster of 2009, causing $5.1 billion in damage and killing 26. Klaus peaked in intensity at 967 mb, and brought wind gusts of 120 mph (193 km/hr) to Formiguères, France, 125 mph (200 km/hr) to Portbou, Spain, and 134 mph (216 km/hr) to Port d'Envalira, Andorra. Meteo-France has put out a bulletin warning of the possibility of hurricane-force wind gusts on Sunday, and is recommending that residents limit travel and avoid the threatened areas if the forecasts remains on track. While the storm is not expected to be as intense when it moves over Portugal and northern Spain on Saturday, these regions will still receive tropical storm-force wind with gusts to hurricane force. The Spanish Meteorological Agency is warning of the possibility of 100 mph (160 km/hr) wind gusts over northern Spain on Saturday. The damage total from this weekend's storm over all of Europe will probably exceed $1 billion, making it the globe's second billion-dollar weather disaster of 2010. The first was the back-to-back blizzards over the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region earlier this month, which are being blamed for over $2 billion in insured losses, according to Eqecat, a risk management firm.

Figure 2. Visible satellite image of Xynthia.

Figure 3. Forecast from the 1am EST 2/26/10 run of the GFS model for 00 GMT Sunday for surface winds. The GFS is predicting that Saturday's storm will peak in intensity at this time with a pressure of 972 mb. Sustained winds just below hurricane force of 60 - 75 mph (green colors) are expected offshore from France. Image was generated using our wundermap for France with the "model" layer turned on.

Links to follow:
La Palma, Canary Islands was reporting sustained winds of 33 mph, gusting to 45 mph today.
Wundermap for Northwest Spain
Spanish radar
Portugese radar
Meteored.com Spanish weather forum
Portugese weather forum
French weather forum

Portlight continues relief efforts in Haiti
The damage from last month's catastrophic earthquake in Haiti has now been estimated at $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion, according to a study released last week by the Inter-American Development Bank. This figure is 1 - 2 times the $7 billion GDP of Haiti estimated by the World Bank. In the face of such a massive disaster, every little bit of help is needed, and Portlight.org has been doing a fantastic job getting relief into Haiti for those who need it most. Below is a link to a 3-minute long piece E News did on Portlight's efforts in Haiti:

Other press:
Much-Needed Rehab Equipment Obtained through Portlight.org, from the Real Medicine Foundation Blog.

Bill Ranic's Blog

The Portlight disaster-relief effort continues in Haiti, and please visit the Portlight.org blog to learn more and to donate.

Next post
I'll have a post this weekend.

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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.