March 2017 North American blizzard

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March 2017 North American blizzard
Category 4 "Crippling" (RSI: 10.66)
March 2017 nor'easter 2017-03-14 1830Z.png
The extratropical cyclone responsible for the blizzard near peak intensity at 18:30 UTC (2:30 p.m. EDT) on March 14 over the East Coast of the United States
Type Extratropical cyclone
Winter storm
Nor'easter
Bomb cyclone
Ice storm
Blizzard
Formed March 9, 2017 (2017-03-09)
Dissipated March 17, 2017 (2017-03-17)
Lowest pressure 974 mb (28.76 inHg)
Tornadoes confirmed 3 on March 13 (all in Florida)
Max rating1 EF1 tornado
Duration of tornado outbreak2 4 hours, 3 minutes
Highest gust 138 mph (222 km/h) on Mount Washington, New Hampshire[1]
Maximum snowfall or ice accretion Snow – 58 inches (150 cm) in Bolton Valley, Vermont[2]
Ice – 0.40 inches (10 mm) in Chesilhurst, New Jersey[2]
Power outages 100,000+
Casualties 16–19 deaths
Areas affected Southwestern Canada, Great Plains, Upper Midwest, Ohio Valley, Northeastern United States (particularly the Mid-Atlantic states and New England), British Isles

1Most severe tornado damage; see Enhanced Fujita scale 2Time from first tornado to last tornado

Part of the 2016–17 North American winter

The March 2017 North American blizzard was a major late-season blizzard that affected the Northeastern United States, New England and Canada, dumping up to 3 feet (36 in; 91 cm) of snow in the hardest hit areas, mainly New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Southern Quebec. Forming out of an extratropical cyclone near the Northwest, the storm system dived into the northern portions of the United States, dropping light to moderate snow across the Great Lakes, Upper Midwest on March 11–12 before reaching the Ohio Valley the next day. It later coalesced into a powerful nor'easter off the East Coast, producing a swath of heavy snowfall across a large portion of the Northeast. The storm was given various unofficial names, such as Winter Storm Stella, Blizzard Eugene, and Blizzard of 2017.

Ahead of the storm, residents prepared in advance for the major nor'easter, with blizzard warnings issued for several states, including New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Several officials had crews with salt trucks ready to deploy to clear roads. The system also disrupted travel across the country, with numerous flight cancellations at most of the major airports in the Northeast. It dropped a swath of moderate snow accumulation as it moved across the northern tier of the country, with as much as 13 inches (33 cm) reported. The storm was also responsible for ending a record streak without snowfall in Chicago, Illinois, where no snow had occurred since December 25, 2016.[3]

Meteorological history

Projected paths for the developing low off the East Coast. Issued 3 p.m. EST (20:00 UTC) on March 13.

On March 11, an extratropical cyclone began to affect parts of the Northwestern United States as well as British Columbia in Canada.[4] It eventually moved ashore later that day and transferred its energy to a new surface low, which began to move southeastwards into the United States as an Alberta clipper. The system moved swiftly across the Upper Midwest throughout the day of March 12, dropping a swath of accumulating snow of 3–6 inches (7.6–15.2 cm) as frontogenesis took place.[5] On March 13 at 15:00 UTC, the Weather Prediction Center began issuing storm summaries while the system was located west-northwest of St. Louis, Missouri.[6] Throughout the day, a weak secondary area of low pressure formed in the Gulf of Mexico and drifted northeastwards, while not expected to fuse with the other low to its north, it helped inject moisture from the ocean over the state of Florida, which gradually began to merge with the outermost fringes of the northerly system that had now moved into the Ohio Valley.[7][8]

By 21:00 UTC that night, a new surface low developed off the Georgia coastline with a central pressure of 1,010 millibars (30 inHg),[9] eventually becoming the dominant low of the nor'easter. The storm began to rapidly deepen as it moved parallel to the East Coast of the United States, with the central pressure dropping to 986 millibars (29.1 inHg) by 15:00 UTC on March 14 while it was just off the Maryland coastline.[10] The storm continued to intensify as it drifted northeastwards towards Long Island, continuing to produce an expansive area of snow with heavier rates embedded in snowbands across Connecticut, northern New York and most of interior New England, as well as parts of Canada.[11] The low subsequently reached its peak intensity of 974 millibars (28.8 inHg) while just inland over Long Island. By 20:00 UTC, most of the snow had come to an end in New Jersey, Delaware, and Washington D.C, as the low began to move inland over New England; subsequently it also began to weaken as it traveled further inland, and by early on March 15, snow began to end in more parts of the region.[12] The system continued to weaken as it moved slowly through upper New England, the system continued to weaken, consequently, the Weather Prediction Center terminated storm summaries on the winter storm as nearly most of the moderate to heavy snow had stopped in the region.

Forecasting controversy

Predictions of the storm were criticized by some due to overestimation of the predicted snowfall totals in the major metropolitan areas including New York City, with The Daily Mail calling it "the blizzard that WASN'T".[13][14] On March 14, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that the storm was not as bad as previously anticipated, due to the change over to a mix of snow and sleet, but advised residents to not let their guard down, as the storm was still predicted to cause high wind gusts and coastal flooding.[15]

The reduction in snowfall totals was due to a shift in the storm's track to the west more towards the New Jersey coastline, which resulted in more mixed precipitation rather then snow. Initially, the National Weather Service predicted that the blizzard would leave New York City with up to 12–24 inches (30–61 cm) (rivaling it almost with the Great Blizzard of 1888), however these totals were later reduced due to the change in the system's track.[16][17] Similarly, the metro area faced a similar situation a little over two years prior where New York City was predicted to receive up to 2–3 feet (24–36 in) of snow, but only received less then half of the predicted amount due to a shift in the storm's track by 50–100 miles (80–161 km).

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service were aware of the changing conditions that led to lesser snow accumulations along the coast the night prior to the expected event. In a multi-office conference, however, forecasters decided to maintain the higher-than-likely snowfall predictions "out of extreme caution." They sought to avoid sending mixed and/or incorrect messages about a dangerous storm by maintaining a steady forecast.[18]

Preparations

Weather alerts at 6:36 p.m. EST (23:36 UTC) on March 13 in advance of the winter storm around Pennsylvania and New Jersey
Watches and warnings for winter storm NWS Mt Holly Mar 13 2017 2336 UTC.png
 Blizzard warning  Winter storm warning
 Storm warning  Gale warning
 Small craft advisory  High wind warning
Weather alerts at 6:37 p.m. EST (23:37 UTC)

on March 13 in advance of the winter storm around

the Boston metro area.
Watches and warnings for winter storm NWS Box 13 2017 2337 UTC.png

Amtrak made several adjustments to service on the Northeast Corridor in preparation of the storm. On the Acela Express, service was suspended between New York City and Boston and reduced between Washington, D.C. and New York City on March 14. Northeast Regional trains were placed on a modified schedule on March 14 with several trains shortened or cancelled. Keystone Service trains were placed on a severe weather schedule for March 14.[19] Bieber Tourways cancelled buses to Philadelphia and New York City on March 14.[20]

President Donald Trump postponed a meeting with Angela Merkel due to the nor'easter.[21]

Mid-Atlantic (United States)

On March 11, the National Weather Service issued blizzard watches for parts of the Northeast, including New York City.[22]

Late on March 12, officials issued a hazardous travel advisory in advance of the storm, which was predicted to bring up to 18 inches (46 cm) of snow to parts of the state, including Staten Island.[23]

The following day on March 13, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio urged the residents of the region to avoid traveling at any point due to the dangerous conditions and also allowing for sanitation crews to respond faster.[24] The New York City Department of Sanitation said that they had nearly 700 salt spreaders across the boroughs of the state, and 1,600 plows would be dispatched to clear the roadways. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo advised everyone in a statement that “[I] encourage all New Yorkers in affected regions to plan ahead, and avoid any unnecessary travel as the storm progresses,” and also said to expect disruptions to travel and transportation.[24]

The precursor to the blizzard developing over the Southeastern United States on March 13

A state of emergency was declared in New York City on March 13, in which the subway system will be shut down on March 14.[25] The state also declared state of emergency.[26]

On March 13, a snow emergency was declared for Philadelphia, which was to go into effect later that night.[27][28] 50,000 tons of salt were said to be available and salting would begin when the snow arrived. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a proclamation of disaster that day and stated that speeds would be restricted on most major freeways.[29] Several businesses and attractions in Philadelphia closed on March 14 including the Philadelphia Zoo and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.[30] SEPTA made changes to bus and train service in anticipation of the storm, with service on several bus routes altered or suspended and Regional Rail service running on a Saturday schedule on March 14.[31] Several flights at Philadelphia International Airport on March 14 were cancelled in anticipation of the storm.[32] The Berks Area Regional Transportation Authority and Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority cancelled all service on March 14.[33] The United States Postal Service closed post offices and cancelled mail delivery for several locations in Pennsylvania on March 14.[34]

Schools in Northern New Jersey have announced closures for Tuesday.[35] A state of emergency was later declared by Governor Chris Christie, with state offices closed on March 14.[36] New Jersey Transit suspended bus service starting at midnight on March 14 and implemented weekend schedules on commuter rail and light rail lines for March 14. PATCO Speedline announced they would be operating on a reduced snow schedule on March 14.[37]

Radar loop of the storm
A radar loop of the blizzard at 10:00 a.m. EST (13:00 UTC), March 14.

In Delaware, Governor John Carney issued a level one driving warning for New Castle County and DMV offices in New Castle County were closed on March 14.[38]

Washington, D.C., was issued a winter storm warning on March 13.[39] MetroAccess is issued to shut down on March 14.[40]

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe also declared a state of emergency late on March 13.[41] The state of emergency was to allow state agencies to assist local governments as they respond to the storm.[42] Roughly 4,500 pieces of equipment were ready to plow once snow totals began to exceed two inches.

A state of emergency was declared in Maryland by Governor Larry Hogan, urging people to prepare for the storm and stay off the roads.[41]

New England

In Boston, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said that they had mechanics working on loads of equipment to get ready for plowing the roads.[43] Approximately 130 flights were cancelled as of the morning of March 13.[44]

In advance of the nor'easter, the Connecticut Department of Transportation readied 634 trucks and 250 contractors.[45] On March 13, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy issued a statewide travel ban, ordering all non-essential first and second shift employees to remain home. Prominent educational institutions, such as the University of Connecticut and Yale University, closed campuses while local districts shut down as well. The Department of Motor Vehicles cancelled all scheduled road tests. State police planned to ready additional staff leading up to the storm. Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim declared a snow emergency late on March 12 while Hartford officials warned city residents of a parking ban beginning at 8 p.m. EDT the following day. The city of New Haven issued a city-wide travel ban effective on March 14. Airport officials at Bradley International Airport began organizing plans for snow removal in the wake of the snowstorm. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority deployed extra staff and specialized equipment, while Peter Pan Bus Lines canceled services from upstate New York to Washington D.C. Eversource Energy and The United Illuminating Company contacted city and town leaders for organization prior to the storm and assistance in its wake.[46] At 4 p.m. EST (21:00 UTC) nearly the whole state went into a blizzard warning, except for shoreline areas of Middlesex and New London counties.[47][48][49][50][51]

In Rhode Island, parking bans were issued in cities state-wide on March 13.[52] Utilities crews prepared for the snow on March 14.[53]

Some town hall meetings were canceled are postponed in New Hampshire, including Manchester, due to the storm.[54][55][56] Schools around the southern part of the state closed on March 14.[57]

The Maine Department of Transportation had to prepare for the storm in Eastern Maine on March 13.[58]

Canada

Winter storm warnings were issued in the Canadian Maritimes on March 13 and for all Southern and Eastern Quebec. Because the system tracked farther inland than expected on the US East Coast, snow accumulations forecast constantly increased on March 12–13 in Ontario and Quebec.[59]

Impact

Snow total observed from march 14th to March 16th 2017 in the USA.
A photo of the snow in Connecticut.

New England

Massachusetts

Snow started falling in the early hours of March 14.[60] West Springfield had received 3 inches of snow by 9:15 a.m. EST (12:15 UTC).[61]

Hurricane-force wind gusts of 79 mph (127 km/h) were recorded in Wellfleet, Massachusetts and of 77 mph (124 km/h) on Plum Island.[62]

Except for pockets, most of the snow dissipated in the night of March 14.[63][64] Due to the wind cycle, Boston was at nearly 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 °C) on the night of March 14.[65]

Connecticut

Snow started falling in the early hours of March 14.[66] Except for pockets, most of the snow dissipated in the night of March 14.[67][68] A man died in East Hartford after being hit by a plow truck.[69][70] Approximately 1,700 customers lost power during the storm.[71] Some areas, including Tornington got up to 20 inches (51 cm) of snow.[72]

Rhode Island

Snow started falling in the early hours of March 14.[60] Except for pockets, most of the snow dissipated in the night of March 14.[63] Rhode Island wasn't as badly hit as other states, due to its location to the Atlantic Ocean.[73] It toppled a wind turbine, due to winds.[74]

Northern New England

Snow started falling in the three states of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire on the morning of March 14.[75][76]

Maine experienced blizzard conditions in some areas.[77] Except for pockets, the snow ended in the mid-afternoon of March 15.[78][79]

Burlington, Vermont snow's lingered around for a while.[80] The snow ended on the morning of March 15.[81]

The nor'easter produced maximum wind gusts (at elevation) of 128–138 mph (206–222 km/h) at Mount Washington, New Hampshire.[82][83][1] The snow ended on the morning of March 15.[81]

Mid-Atlantic

New York

Snow at the JFK Airport after the storm

Western New York started getting hit by snow during the evening of March 13.[84] The strongest parts of the storm on March 14 hit the Catskills area of the state.[85] The blizzard warning for New York City was rescinded early in the morning.[86] Freezing rain and sleet was common in the southern areas of the state, along with flooding.[87][88] By the evening of March 15, except for small bands of snow in Central New York, the snow had ended.[89] 3-6 deaths were reported in the state.[90][91]

New Jersey

Snow started falling on the night of March 13.[92] The snow had ended by the evening of March 14.[93] Flooding was also caused by this storm.[94][95] Along with high winds, beach erosion was common along the southern shore.[96]

Pennsylvania

Snow started falling on the night of March 13.[97] Except for small pockets, the snow ended by the early-morning of March 15.[98] The National Guard ended bringing a sick child to the hosptial during the storm.[99] 40,000 people lost power during the storm.[100] 3 deaths have been reported from the state.[101][102]

South

Maryland

Snow started falling on the night of March 13.[103] It had turned into sleet by the mid-morning of March 14.[104] It left the state by the late-afternoon of March 14.[105][106][107]

Virginia

Snow on the ground in Hybla Valley, Virginia, the night of March 13.

Snow started falling on the evening of March 13.[103] It had turned into sleet by the mid-morning of March 14.[104] It left the state by the morning of March 14.[108]

Washington, D.C.

Snow started falling on the evening of March 13.[103] By the start of the day of March 14, it had turned into a wintry mix, then to rain.[109][110] It left the area by the afternoon of March 14. Washington Dulles airport's flights starting departing at the end of the day.[111]

Canada

Quebec and Ontario

The snow began hitting Ontario and Quebec on March 13 around noon.[112][113] It rapidly intensified in the afternoon over portions of Southern Quebec and the Eastern Townships before becoming a powerful blizzard over Montreal and its South Shore, as heavy snow bands came from the South-East and did a wrap-around effect just on the South Shore of Montreal, where the snow fell at a rate of more than 7.5 cm/hr (3 in/hr) for more than 6 hours between 6PM and midnight.[114] Environment Canada reported that a blizzard officially occurred in Montreal and Quebec City.[114] The storm continued to track Northeast and affected Quebec City and Eastern Quebec where blizzard conditions were also occurring in the night. At the end of the blizzard, 18 cm (7 in) were recorded in Ottawa, 40 cm (16 in) in Montreal, 35 cm (14 in) in Quebec City, 55 cm (22 in) in Sherbrooke, 70 cm (28 in) in Drummondville, and more than 75 cm (30 in) in several locations such as Saint-Hubert, Vaudreuil-Dorion and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.[114]

Winds from the Northeast increased in the Saint Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City in the evening, producing the blizzard. Wind gusts reached 107 km/h (66 mph) at Montreal Pierre-Elliott Trudeau International Airport, 113 km/h (70 mph) at Saint-Hubert Airport on the South Shore and 140 km/h (87 mph) at Quebec International Airport.[114] Numerous road pileups occurred, most notably on Ontario Highway 401 near Mallorytown, on Quebec highway 20 near Saint-Zotique (which caused a major fire, destroying several semis and killing one of their drivers), on highway 10 near Magog, on highway 40 near Lavaltrie and on Highway 20 near Sainte-Hélène de Bagot.[114] Road closures included highway 15 near the USA border, highway 10 near Magog, highway 20 in Saint-Zotique and Saint-Eugène, and most notably on highway 13 on Montreal Island, where several hundreds of cars and trucks were left trapped for more than 14 hours due to communication and logistic issues complicating the evacuation.[114]

In Quebec, many areas were left without power for more than 24 hours. In Quebec city, the Saint-Lawrence river stepped out of its riverbed, flooding both areas of Quebec City and Lévis.[115] Five people were killed during the storm itself.[116] At least two more (both elderly males) were found dead in Montreal in parked cars over the following days, presumably killed by heart attacks while attempting to clear them out.[117]

Atlantic Canada

The storm started affected New Brunswick in the afternoon on March 14, with the other Atlantic Canadian provinces being hit in the early evening.[118][119] The Maritime's snow ended at the night of March 15, even though Newfoundland countines to have snow.[120]

Other areas

Midwestern U.S.

The first phase of the storm hit the Midwest on March 13, causing up to 15 inches (38 cm) of snow in some areas.[121] 2 deaths were reported in Wisconsin.[122]

Southern U.S.

Multiple states ended up getting dustings of snow on March 12.[123]

Snowfall totals

Highest observed snow totals from each affected state
State Town Amount
 Illinois Colona 5.8 inches (15 cm)
 Indiana Cedar Lake 3 inches (7.6 cm)
 Iowa Ringsted 13 inches (33 cm)
 Michigan Oscoda 8 inches (20 cm)
 Minnesota Duluth 13 inches (33 cm)
  North Dakota New Town /

Williston

4 inches (10 cm)
 South Dakota Watertown 10 inches (25 cm)
 Wisconsin Newburg 15.6 inches (40 cm)
 Arkansas Cave City 5 inches (13 cm)
 Tennessee Paris 4.5 inches (11 cm)
 South Carolina Pageland 3.7 inches (9.4 cm)
 North Carolina Bakersville 5.5 inches (14 cm)
 Kentucky Hebron 0.8 inches (2.0 cm)
 West Virginia Great Cacapon 12 inches (30 cm)
 Virginia Winchester 9.1 inches (23 cm)
 New York Hartwick 48.4 inches (123 cm)
 Connecticut Middletown 21 inches (53 cm)
 New Jersey Vernon 20 inches (51 cm)
 Pennsylvania Susquehanna 32.3 inches (82 cm)
 Delaware Pike Creek 4.4 inches (11 cm)
 Maryland Mountain Lake Park 12.8 inches (33 cm)
 District of Columbia National Zoo 3.1 inches (7.9 cm)
 Massachusetts Williamstown 19 inches (48 cm)
 Rhode Island Burrillville 13 inches (33 cm)
 New Hampshire Nottingham 19 inches (48 cm)
 Maine Bridgton 20.7 inches (53 cm)
 Vermont Bolton Valley 58 inches (150 cm)
Highest observed snow totals from each reported province
Province Town Amount
 Ontario Niagara Falls 18 inches (45 cm)
 Quebec St-Jean-sur-Richelieu 30 inches (75 cm)
 New Brunswick Bathurst 12 inches (30 cm)
Sources:[124][137]

Naming

The storm has received several different unofficial names from different media outlets. The Weather Channel, which names significant winter storms that have disruptive impacts on major cities, assigned the name Stella to the winter storm.[124][138][139][140] Connecticut based WFSB dubbed the storm Blizzard Eugene.[141][142] The National Weather Service has stated though that, unlike hurricanes, it does not name winter storms. The practice of winter storm naming remains controversial in the United States.

See also

References

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