8 Things to Know About This Weekend’s Winter Storm
There is now little doubt that this weekend's nor'easter will cause significant impacts for New Jersey, ranging from snow to rain to wind to surge.
1.) The Bottom Line
A significant winter storm will bring a combination of heavy snow, rain, gale-force winds, and coastal flooding to New Jersey. I am particularly concerned about the battering that the Jersey Shore is prone to take here, with the potential for incredible 12 to 20 foot waves and 2 to 4 foot surge (on top of an already high high tide cycle). Double-digit snow totals are likely for *somewhere* in New Jersey. 60+ mph wind gusts may cause downed trees, power outages, near-zero visibility, and dangerous wind chills.
2.) Model Overview
Yesterday, the European model surprised meteorologists up and down the Atlantic coast by dramatically digging the storm further south than previously thought. This solution would still cause big problems for central and southern New Jersey, but predicted snowfall totals in North Jersey and New York City were measly, at best.
That was yesterday. Today's 00Z Euro model run pulled back northward a bit, and falls much more in line with the other major models at this point. Model to model consistency isn't perfect, but confidence is reasonably high that this will be a significant winter storm for the Garden State.
Big differences and question marks remain, however, surrounding the timing of the storm's onset and departure, and overall snow totals (especially where in New Jersey the "bullseye" will be). More on these issues below...
Generally, this storm will affect New Jersey from Friday evening through Sunday. That's an admittedly broad window of time. Among the major models, there are some discrepancies regarding the exact timing of this storm's first flakes and last licks.
Here's my model-by-model interpretation of storm timing:
--GFS: First flakes around 6 p.m. Friday... Heaviest late Friday night through early Saturday morning... Tapering on Sunday... Done by 6 p.m. Sunday
--European: First flakes around Midnight Friday night... Heaviest Saturday during the day... Tapering on Sunday... Done by 6 p.m. Sunday
--Canadian: First flakes around 6 p.m. Friday... Heaviest Saturday during the day... Done by Noon Sunday
--NAM: First flakes around Midnight Friday night... Heaviest Saturday during the day... (That's it - the NAM only goes out 84 hours)
Putting all that together, we have about a pretty sizable window for the storm's first snowflakes... Which, by the way, will along the Delaware Bay... My hope is that we can at least make it through the Friday evening rush hour before it really starts snowing. Parts of central and northern New Jersey may not get into the thick of the storm until about sunrise Saturday.
The timing of the heaviest part and the grand finale of this storm is a bit trickier. Such details largely depend on the speed and track of the system, the forecast for which is still apt to "wiggle" as the storm draws closer. At this point, I'm only comfortable saying that the storm will end sometime on Sunday. We'll get more clarity on that in the coming days... but even if the storm ends Sunday morning, there's going to be a lot of digging out to do Sunday afternoon...
4.) Storm Surge & Coastal Flooding
It's becoming abundantly clear that the Jersey Shore is in some big trouble from this storm. Here's the rundown:
--Astronomical High Tide: Saturday is the full moon, which naturally creates a higher tide cycle.
--Wave Action: As it slides up the Atlantic coast, this nor'easter will churn up the ocean significantly, and gusty northeast winds will carry lots of water toward the coast. 12 to 20 foot waves are forecast just off the Jersey Shore.
--Beach Erosion: With 12 to 20 foot waves, severe beach erosion is almost a certainty.
--Storm Surge: Overall water levels are expected to rise 2 to 4 feet for Saturday.
--High Tide: These impacts will be most prominent at the times of high tide. Times of the twice-daily high tide vary slightly along the New Jersey coastline... For Belmar, high tide is expected: Friday at 5:38 a.m. and 6:06 p.m., Saturday at 6:25 a.m. and 6:53 a.m., and Sunday at 7:09 a.m. and 7:38 p.m.
--The Worst: Since prevailing winds will be out of the northeast, any beaches with a northeast exposure will be prone to the overall fiercest waves and surge. Looking at you, Monmouth County...
If you live along a tidal waterway, I recommend you take a close look at today's high tide and envision how high the water would go if the water rose another 4 feet (or more).
If this forecast holds, coastal impacts are expected to be similar to those from Irene in 2011 and from the December 1992 nor'easter.
5.) Heavy Snow
All major models now show *someone* in New Jersey is going to get pounded by 18+ inches of snow. We're still not ready to pinpoint potential snow totals for any town or county in New Jersey, and we're not ready to produce a snowfall forecast map at this time. It's coming soon.
Given the current forecast track, the most likely location for the biggest snow totals would be inland portions of central and southern New Jersey... Probably somewhere along the Delaware River. Far North Jersey could fall outside of the heaviest snow, so totals could be less. (Key word: could...) The Jersey Shore and South Jersey may see a change to rain for a time on Saturday, producing less overall snow accumulation.
Models have shown for several runs that there's probably going to be a noticeable demarkation between big snow and hardly anything at all. One New Jersey town may get 4 inches, while the next town over sees over a foot. That obviously makes this forecast tricky.
We'll wait for the afternoon models to run, and then we'll issue a snow accumulation forecast map. That forecast map will then be updated every morning and afternoon through the start of the storm, as the forecast continues to evolve.
My high temperature forecast for New Jersey on Saturday ranges from 28 degrees in North Jersey to 39 degrees in South Jersey. Yes, 39 degrees - well warm enough for at least some mixing with, if not an outright transition to, rain.
Models are frankly wishy-washy about this rain possibility... and unfortunately, even harder to read regarding the potential impact of rain/mix on overall snow accumulations. So, for now, I'll say that on Saturday, part of New Jersey could change from snow to rain... That "part" could be limited to immediate coastal areas along the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay... Or the rain-snow line could drift as far inland as the NJ Turnpike. If you're west of the Turnpike, this storm is probably going to produce all snow.
7.) Gusty Winds
I have already mentioned the potential for some fierce northeast (i.e. "nor'east") winds from this storm. Gale-force sustained winds inland will climb to about 25 to 35 mph inland, and up to 45 mph along the coast. Wind gusts will probably peak over 60 mph.
Downed trees... Power outages... Near-zero visibility during heavy snow... Dangerous wind chills... Are all likely wind impacts from this winter storm.
Could we reach blizzard conditions somewhere in NJ? Possibly. (The technical definition of a blizzard, according to the American Meteorological Society requires 35+ mph winds along with falling or blowing snow, frequently reducing visibility to less than a quarter-mile for at least 3 hours. Yup, a blizzard is all about the wind and the visibility - not how much snow falls!
8.) Final Thoughts
As you've probably noticed by my word choice and overall tone in this article and on-air today, it's about time to get serious about this storm. Confidence is reasonably that, unless every single major model flips or changes significantly over the next 2 days, New Jersey is going to get smacked in some way. As I've been saying all week, it will be some combination of heavy snow, rain, strong winds, and coastal impacts.
Having said that, there are still major question marks surrounding snow totals and the snow vs. rain issue. But even if we forget the snow threat for a moment... this is still a major storm! The surge, beach erosion, and tidal flooding threats are no joke. Power outages in cold and snow can be uncomfortable, if not dangerous. And anyone crazy enough to drive in the snow and ice will be taking a very big risk.
The time for hesitation and procrastination is over. The storm is coming.
Next forecast update... Mid-afternoon.