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Rare October snowstorm hammers Northeast U.S.

By: Christopher C. Burt 10:15 PM GMT on October 30, 2011

The most extraordinary October snowstorm in over two centuries in the Northeast U.S. has finally come to an end this Sunday afternoon. Not since the infamous snow hurricane of 1804 have such prodigious amounts of snow been recorded in New England and, to a lesser extent, in the mid-Atlantic states. In fact, the snowfall, in most cases, has exceeded that of even the great October snow of 1804. Trees that had not yet lost their leaves suffered tremendous damage from the wet, heavy snow, and snapped branches and falling trees brought down numerous power lines, leaving at least 2.5 million people without electricity.

Figure 1. Heavy snow in Coopersburg, PA on October 29 brought down trees and blocked roads. Image credit: wunderphotographer boyrr.

The records are broken are simply unbelievable. New York City's Central Park location, with a period of record dating back to 1869, received an official 2.9" of snowfall, breaking the previous record of 0.8" set in 1925. The highest total in New York City itself was 6.0" at Fieldston in the Bronx. But that is a simply an afterthought compared to the 19.0" reported just 45 miles northwest of Manhattan at West Milford. New Jersey. Newark, New Jersey reported 5.2", by far their greatest October snowfall on record. And even that total pales in comparison to the astonishing figures measured in New Hampshire and Massachusetts where more than 30" has been reported. Perhaps most amazing of all is the 22.5" that fell at Concord, New Hampshire between 3pm Saturday and 7am Sunday. This the second greatest 24-hour total ever record on any date or month in Concord history. Virtually every site north of Maryland to Maine, with the exception of coastal areas, recorded their greatest October snowfall on record. True blizzard conditions were averted since the strongest winds were confined to coastal areas where the precipitation fell almost exclusively as rain. A wind gust of 69 mph was recorded at Nantucket, Massachusetts (where sustained winds of 53 mph also occurred) and Barnstable at 4am Sunday. The top wind gust on Long Island, New York was 58 mph at Sands Point.

Figure 2. Snow depth as of 2 am EDT Sunday October 29, 2011. Image credit: NOAA.

The highest snow totals by state, from the latest NOAA storm summary and NWS public information statements:

Massachusetts: 32" at Peru
New Hampshire: 31.4" at Jaffrey
Maine: 20.0" at Acton
New Jersey: 19.0" at West Milford
Connecticut: 18.6" at Bakersville
New York: 17.9" at Millbrook
Pennsylvania: 16.0" at Huffs Church, Hazleton, and Springtown
Vermont: 16.0" at West Halifax
West Virginia: 14.0" at Mount Storm
Maryland: 11.5" at Sabillasville
Rhode Island: 6.6" at West Glocester

New England's Snow Hurricane of October 9, 1804
In a post I wrote last November on record early snowstorms, I penned this account of the Great October Snow Hurricane of 1804:

Perhaps the most extraordinary early-season snowstorm in New England history occurred on Oct. 9, 1804 when a hurricane roared ashore on Long Island, New York and then encountered an arctic air mass over southeastern Canada. The winds of the hurricane caused extensive structural damage from New York to Massachusetts (where the steeple of North Church in Boston was blown down). The rain turned to snow as far south as the Connecticut River Valley in Connecticut, where low elevation towns from here to the Canadian border received 4-6" of snow, and the higher terrain of Vermont up to three feet of accumulation. In Vermont, drifts buried fences and blocked roads. The Catskills of New York reported 12-18"; the Berkshires of Massachusetts received 24-30". Even coastal New Haven reported some snow (and 3.66" of rain). Reference: "Early American Winters: 1604-1820", by David M. Ludlum, American Meteorological Society, 1966, and "Early American Hurricanes, 1492-1870", by the same author.

Given what we have just seen it is probably safe to concluded that this weekend's event was of even greater magnitude than the 1804 storm although three weeks later in the season.

Wunderground weather historian, Christopher C. Burt

New York City's 3rd wettest year on record
The 2.01 inches of precipitation that fell in New York City in Saturday's storm brought the city's year-to-date total to 65.75", which is 24.10" above normal, and makes it the third wettest year in New York City history. With two months still left in the year, New York City has a chance to beat its all-time wettest year in history, the 80.56" that fell in 1980. Records date back to 1869.

Early season snowfalls and climate change
Naturally, the occurrence of a record early-season snow storm will lead to cries of "what happened to global warming?" Global warming theory does predict that we should see a decrease in early-season and late season snow as the climate warms, since it will not be cold enough to snow. However, the climate models also predict that we may see an increase in the intensity of the strongest winter storms, like the Nor'easter that dumped the record October snows over the Northeast on Saturday, and it is important to realize that snow is not the same thing as cold. Temperatures in the Northeast U.S. were quite cold on Saturday, but no observing station there broke a record for coldest temperature for the day on October 29, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Our climate is still cold enough in October to give us the occasional early-season record snowstorm.

Quiet in the Atlantic
There are no threat areas to discuss in the Atlantic, and none of the reliable computer models are showing development of a new tropical depression in the Atlantic over the next seven days.

I'll have a new post on Tuesday morning.

Jeff Masters
no, not Christmas! just looks like it..the first series of shots of our record setting October Nor'easter..about 16 inches of heavy, wet snow causing all kinds of headaches, and dangerous situations here in the Western foothills of Maine into NH..I went out at first light to capture some of the scenes here at the 'farm'..beautiful but waay too early for this much snow..especially since we didn't have a chance to winterize the plants/trees/shrubs or cleanup the Autumn leaves (many of which are STILL ON THE TREES)
Very Confused
Very Confused
This shows how very confused mother nature is right now. One half of this photo is fall and they other half is winter. Crazy isn't it?
Millbrook, New York USA
Millbrook, New York USA
Oct.30, 2011
Big Snow
Big Snow
13 in. of snow when I woke up Sun! But this was taken 2 days prior.
October Beech..
October Beech..
looking amazing in the forest with the heavy snow coating..ALMOST makes this freak snowstorm a welcome visitor!

Winter Weather

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