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The Great East Coast Blizzard that shattered eastern coast of USA: Explained

The Great East Coast Blizzard that shattered eastern coast of USA: Explained

The storm resulted from a rare and potent mix of ingredients that came together at just the right moment to create a powerful storm.

EXPLANATION

  • There was an upper level low pressure area that dug a deep dip, or trough, in the jet stream across the southeast. The circulation around this low and the jet stream winds associated with it produced an area of strong lift in the atmosphere out ahead of it.
  • This helped trigger a surface low pressure area, which strengthened rapidly as it moved up the coast.
  • The upper low aligned itself on top of the low at the surface, creating a vertically stacked, whirling vortex off the East Coast that sat and spun like a top throughout the day.
  • The moisture feed from this storm was incredibly long — based on satellite imagery, the storm was tapping moisture from as far south as the Bahamas, and as far east as the Gulf Stream waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The storm greedily gulped down this moisture via an unusually strong airflow known as a low level jet stream, which gave the storm a powerful east-to-west feed, which acted like a straw that the storm could suck on to ingest relatively mild, moist air.
  • The conditions that accelerated the blizzard
  1. Ocean temperatures off the coast were well above average, by about 5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit, for this time of year, adding extra energy to the storm and providing it with more moisture.
  2. However, some of it may also be due to man-made global warming. Last year was the warmest year on record, and higher temperatures on land and at sea means there is more moisture available for storm systems like this one.
  3. There was a strong, frigid area of high pressure to the north of the system. The circulation around this high injected cold, dry air into the storm system, feeding it through what meteorologists know as a “cold conveyor belt.” This ensures that the mild, moist air gets wrung out of the atmosphere in the form of snow, not rain.
  4. The pressure difference between the low-pressure area crawling along the Mid-Atlantic coast and the high-pressure area to the north also resulted in extremely strong winds directed at the coast.
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