Humans of the East Coast, listen: A major, major winter storm is underway.
Washington, DC, Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia are all in line for what forecasters say could be a historic amount of snow. While forecasts may change, the storm is currently expected to bring more than a foot of snow to some major cities, along with whiteout conditions, high winds, and major coastal flooding.
The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for most of the Mid-Atlantic, From Virginia to Long Island, New York. The weather service reports:
The snow will be heavy at times through late Saturday before tapering off by early Sunday morning. The strongest winds and greatest potential for blizzard conditions will be during the day Saturday.
During the blizzard, expect wind gust up to 55 miles per hour, whiteout conditions, and downed power lines. Travel, if not impossible, will be extremely dangerous.
"Do not travel," the weather service warns bluntly. "If you must travel, have a winter survival kit with you."
Authorities in several affected states have declared states of emergency. Thousands of flights have been canceled.
The storm's bullseye appears to directly target Washington and Baltimore. Accumulations of 18 inches or more are expected in this region. Blizzard conditions are expected to begin around 3 pm Friday in these cities and last until Sunday morning.
Forecasters are also stressing the ability of this storm to produce surges of four to five feet along the New Jersey and New York shorelines. "Such flooding would probably rival Hurricane Irene’s in New York City," Slate's Eric Holthaus writes.
Some towns on the Jersey shore have issued evacuation orders for residents.
Some major cities could see at least a foot of snow
Here are the latest snowfall projections from the National Weather Service:
Meteorologists — who live for this sort of thing — were saying as early as Wednesday the storm may be a record breaker.
Historical snow rankings, if tonight's model runs pan out: DC: #1-3 Balt: #2-8 Philly: #4-9 NYC: 7th-… Boston: ... https://t.co/RrNiHaaOAF— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) January 20, 2016
NAM still heavily snowing at Hour 84 backbreaking, blockbuster blizzard watch for DC/BWI. Maps Sat eve: pic.twitter.com/a1FkUelkWH— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) January 20, 2016
Based on model forecast...50-million population to see at least 6-inches of snow. 20M at least a foot @weatherbell pic.twitter.com/wpD5n1plTX— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) January 20, 2016
Big Mid-Atlantic storms tend to be big news events. And it's not just because the national media is largely located within the I-95 corridor.
The Mid-Atlantic is one of the most densely populated regions in the country. When it snows here, it affects millions of people. And while Boston may be extremely familiar with dealing with large snowfall accumulations, the other East Coast cities are sometimes brought to a standstill by just a few inches.
A huge winter storm in the Northeast not only keeps millions of people in their homes but can also disrupt major industries and the federal government. The 2010 "Snowmageddon" blizzard was estimated to cost New York $700 million in lost wages and retail sales.
What's also notable about this storm is how far in advance many weather prediction models have converged on the forecast.
"Since early Saturday, nearly every single run of every major model has shown the potential for a foot or two of snowfall on a track to hit somewhere between Northern Virginia and Boston," Slate's Holthaus writes.
The consistency of the #DC bullseye has been astounding. Run after run. Tonight's GEFS. 2 feet or bust. pic.twitter.com/KfiYRnVS2W— Eric Fisher (@ericfisher) January 21, 2016
At Weather Underground, Bob Henson said the models are in "remarkable agreement."
Currently, a low-pressure system is making its way across the southern United States. When it meets the ocean, Henson writes "the low-level cyclone will funnel warm, moist air from the tropical Atlantic into the region, with the air mass cooling and generating snow as it rises."
According to Holthaus, the "most remarkable thing about this week’s snowstorm is the sheer amount of water that will be available to be turned into snowflakes."
Meteorologists are calling this weather system a "textbook" example of a system that can produce a lot of snow, comparing it to big winter storms such as the blizzard of 1996 which dropped 48 inches in some areas and caused $3 billion in damages and the Snowmageddon storm of 2010.
Here's what the forecasts are currently calling for (though keep in mind that this could change as we get closer to Friday). Right now DC and Baltimore are projected to receive the heaviest amounts, and the brunt of the blizzard conditions. Depending on how closely the storm tracks to the coast, the cities farther north could either see a burial or just a dusting.
"Snow totals in our area are forecast to be at least 16 inches, with 24 to 30 inches or so possible in some spots, especially north and west of the District," the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang writes of snowfall potential in the region.
08z NWS for DC area is still 25-30" snowfall Blowing and drifting will create a polar landscape. Own it. pic.twitter.com/KfrZ2cz1xF— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) January 22, 2016
The Baltimore Sun writes:
Most forecasters, including the National Weather Service, have been calling for 18 to 24 inches of snow across Central Maryland. But the latest runs of major forecast models Friday morning were getting more extreme -- weather service meteorologists' best guess for the Baltimore area is in the realm of 24 to 30 inches, with more than 30 inches possible if the storm overperforms. If it underperforms, we're still looking at nearly a foot of snow.
"For the immediate Philadelphia area, [weather models] are calling for 12 to 16 inches of snow Friday night and Saturday into Saturday night," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
In New York
As of Friday morning, the National Weather Service predicts around eight to 10 inches of snow in New York City. But the city will be very close to the gradient where snowfall totals drop off dramatically. Depending on how the storm tracks, it could see a lot of snow, or just a few inches.
News reports from the city still feeling the post-traumatic stress of last year's snow season — snow piles from the storms finally melted in July — are being cautious. (After last winter's brutal blanketing, the city of Boston purchased a pair of truck-mounted snowblowers, which look awesome.)
The Boston Globe reports the storm may only "sideswipe" the city: "The heaviest snow, perhaps several inches, can be expected on the state's south coast, while just an inch or two is expected in the northern part of the state."
In New Jersey
Here's that updated snowfall map from @NWS_MountHolly from around 500 AM. Next update will be late this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/5SfkEidmyp— Gary Szatkowski (@GarySzatkowski) January 21, 2016
The storm might be disruptive in another way: flooding. The National Weather Service reports that "there is a high probability for moderate to major coastal flooding for the morning high tide cycles" on Saturday.
Headlines will be snow, but scary early surge projections for NJ coast. This could end up being real story. pic.twitter.com/213mTS9y6t— Stephen Stirling (@SStirling) January 20, 2016
"The storm will coincide Saturday night with the full moon, which combined with very strong winds, will cause major flooding along the New Jersey and Delaware coasts," a Weather Service meteorologist told the Philly Voice. "The flooding could be 'close to Sandy' in terms of severity."
Everyone will be talking snow totals today, but THIS is scarier. 20ft waves just off the Jersey Shore? #njwx @nj1015 pic.twitter.com/H0blyIUo48— Dan Zarrow (@DanZarrow) January 20, 2016
This post will be updated if the forecasts change significantly.
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