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Nantucket Blizzards

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:25 PM GMT on January 23, 2014

Nantucket Blizzards

The winter storm dubbed Janus by The Weather Channel pummeled the east Tuesday and Wednesday this week and prompted blizzard warnings for Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Massachusetts. However, the National Weather Service office in Boston confirmed that, in the end, conditions actually fell just short of blizzard criteria at any location in Massachusetts. Nantucket, however, came very close Wednesday morning.

The blizzard whipped the 6-10” of powdery snow into 4’ drifts in the town of Nantucket on Wednesday morning. Photo by Nicole Harnishfeger courtesy of the Nantucket newspaper The Inquirer and Mirror.

According to the NWS for a true blizzard to occur a site must meet the following criteria: at least three consecutive hours of visibility of ¼ mile or less, sustained winds or gusts at or greater than 35 mph, and snowfall or blowing snow observed.

Looking at the METARS for Nantucket on Wednesday morning (January 22nd) we see that from the 7:43 a.m. through the 9:58 a.m. the above mentioned blizzard criteria were met (note that the ‘light freezing fog’ was, in fact, snowfall—a METAR artifact common during blizzard-like conditions).

Weather observations at Nantucket the morning of January 22nd. Blizzard conditions occurred for at least 2 hours 15 minutes from 7:45 to 10:00 a.m., short by (at the most) 45 minutes to be considered an ‘official’ blizzard.

Officially, a storm total of 6.0” fell with a peak wind gust of 60 mph. However, the high winds made it very difficult to measure the actual snow depth. The local newspaper, The Inquirer and Mirror reported that the actual snowfall ranged between 8”-10” across the island and the highest wind gust reported was 69 mph measured by a home weather station on Washing Pond Rd. Drifts up to 4’ deep were common.

How rare are blizzards in Nantucket?

Blizzards are rare in Nantucket but have occurred, on average, about once every five years or so. The average annual snowfall for Nantucket is only 23”, among the lowest for the state of Massachusetts. Snow seasons have ranged from a low of 3.8” in 1952-1953 to a high of 82.0” in 1903-1904.

The types of storms that bring heavy winter snows to Boston normally result in just rainfall for the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Only powerful ‘nor’easters’ whose tracks remain well off the Atlantic coastline can bring heavy snow or blizzard conditions to the islands. This was the case with the storm this week. The heaviest snowfalls in Massachusetts were south of Boston where up to 18” fell in Plymouth County and 12” on Cape Cod. Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard reported 11.1”.

Nantucket’s worst blizzards on record were those of January 25-26, 1905 when 21.4” fell and February 27-29, 1952 when 21.4” also accumulated. The snow depth reached an all-time record of 23” on February 28th, 1952 (another storm on February 18th had deposited 8” of snow) and drifts of 12-14’ deep paralyzed the island.

Winds during the Nantucket blizzard of February 27-29, 1952 reached 80 mph on the island. Another storm just 10 days earlier caused disaster at sea when the tanker ship S.S. Pendleton foundered on February 18th in high seas off Cape Cod. The man visible in the bow (holding the rail) later froze to death along with the loss of the captain and six others. 32 additional crewmen were rescued by a small boat of three Coast Guard members. Photo from U.S. Coast Guard archives. For more on this dramatic event read the U.S. Coast Guard account. One of the most heroic rescue events in the annals of U.S. Coast Guard history.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Snow

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

Reader Comments

I thought I saw an account of 30" of snow in Nantucket in a storm in in Nantucket in March 1960. Maybe the winds weren't strong enough to be a blizzard?
Quoting 1. DonnieBwkGA:
I thought I saw an account of 30" of snow in Nantucket in a storm in in Nantucket in March 1960. Maybe the winds weren't strong enough to be a blizzard?

The storm of March 3-5, 1960 dumped 19.0" of snow on Nantucket. It may have been a blizzard as well. There have been many blizzards on Nantucket before, not just the two I mentioned (which I noted because those were the two biggest snowstorms accumulation-wise). The 1960 storm ranked as the 4th biggest snow. #3 was 19.2" on January 13-14, 1964.
Quoting 3. DonnieBwkGA:
Wikipedia says 31.3" for Nantucket. But that is...wikipedia.

This figure, in a way, is correct. Alfred Geddies, chief of the USWB site at Nantucket Airport, reported that 31.3" of snow did fall over the three-day storm but was interrupted by three periods of rain with a rise of temperature to 35. This cut the actual snow accumulation depth to 19.0". But one can say that for a three-day storm total the snowfall over several various periods of time added up to 31.3". I'm not sure if a storm that begins as snow for a day then changes to rain for a day and then changes back to snow for a day is, all-in-all, considered a single-snowstorm record or not.

Manila: Floods forced thousands to flee their homes on Friday, as the death toll rose to 56 in the southern Philippines region of Mindanao.

Sources said at least 35,000 people in the predominantly Muslim region braved waist-high water to leave flooded villages, bringing to 1.14 million the number of people displaced in 14 days of continuous torrential rains, brought about by tropical depression Lingling.

The storm was spotted in the Pacific Ocean, 230km off Davao City in the southern Philippines on Friday, authorities said.

Lingling has been pouring rains previously only on four southern regions

The pressure also dropped to 28.30" in Nantucket in the March 1960 storm so it was doubtless quite windy. Thanks for the information Mr. Burt! :)
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