Much of New England is under a Winter Storm Warning as a late season snowstorm impacts the region. Forecasts are calling for much of Central New England to receive at least a foot of snow. The heaviest amounts are expected mainly in New Hampshire, especially between Concord and Plymouth. As with many late season storms, this one is also producing heavy wind and rain as well causing localized damage especially to coastal areas. Many New Englanders, especially in Eastern Massachusetts will recall that today’s storm comes exactly twenty years after an unexpected blizzard struck the region, no joke.
Late Season Winter Storm in New England
The current satellite shows a well developed storm system off the coast of Massachusetts. While this storm is occurring late in the season, it is unlikely that it will earn a place in the annals of New England weather history. Snow continues to fall over much of New England but has already produced nearly 9 inches of snow in Ashburnham, located in Central Massachusetts. Ice is also an issue for some parts of the commonwealth including Worcester which has already seen 0.38 inches of ice accumulation. As of 1pm this afternoon, the weather has knocked out power to around 1000 customers across Massachusetts according to MEMA, mainly in towns that have seen significant ice accretion and from wind damage along the coast.
On the flip side of the system, we are seeing heavy rainfall and some gusty winds. Many locations across Southeastern New England have reported over 3 inches of rainfall including Kingston, Brewster, and Nantucket in Massachusetts. Winds have also been strong at times with a few land stations recording sustained winds in the 35-40mph range and a peak sustained wind measurement of 41mph just offshore. The peak wind gust so far was 59mph on Nantucket early this morning. As mentioned, the winds have caused some power outages mainly in Eastern Massachusetts and reports of damage have been coming in with some trees, tree limbs, and wires down. There have been some reports of flooding as well, both along the coast and inland.
Twenty Years Ago Today: Mother Nature’s Cruel Joke
To those not from New England, today’s event might sound like a big deal and while it is certainly nothing to sneeze at, it pales in comparison to the blizzard which struck the Northeast twenty years ago. The 1997 snowstorm produced up to three feet of snow and left hundreds of thousands of customers without power from Maryland to Maine. Many considered this storm a surprise because the weather was spring like prior to the event and it was late in the season. The weather on March 30th, 1997 featured high temperatures in the upper 50’s and even a few readings in the low 60’s. Further compounding the event was the fact that the storm occurred during the work week unlike today’s storm.
The 1997 snowstorm began as an area of low pressure over the Ohio River Valley which brought a cold rain to much of the region. It tracked east bringing light rain to New York and Western New England before moving off the Maryland coast. Once offshore, the storm began to rapidly develop. Cold air was drawn into the storm changing rain over to snow. The storm system moved very slowly allowing for a long duration snow event across parts of New England as March turned into April.
The April Fool’s Day Blizzard nearly doubled the seasonal snowfall at Boston’s Logan Airport. The winter of 1996-97 was not a notable one in Boston up until March 31st with only 26.5 inches being reported which is well below average for the coastal city. By the end of this event, the city would see its fourth largest (third largest at the time) snow event in history and the largest in April. The airport received 25.4 inches including a foot (accompanied by lightning and thunder) in just four hours, from 11pm on March 31st through 3am on April 1st. Much of Massachusetts saw over 20 inches of snowfall, especially between Boston and Worcester, the latter seeing 33 inches.
Despite public opinion that the storm was a surprise, meteorologists did know a snowstorm was coming but even they did not foresee its severity. The brunt of the storm hit Massachusetts where a state of emergency was declared by the governor. The heavy snow fell so fast that crews were unable to keep up with it resulting in roads becoming impassable. Interstate 95 and Route 128, critical roadways in the Boston Metro, were also snow clogged. As a result, thousands of cars were stranded on the roads and around 1,000 motorists braved the storm in their cars. The commuter rail system in the city of Boston was forced to close for the first time since the Blizzard of ’78 and other forms of public transit were crippled. Logan Airport was shut down for 32 hours with some travelers still stranded in Boston as late as April 3rd.
The heavy, wet snow caused tree limbs and some whole trees to fall which snapped numerous power lines across the Northeastern United States. At the height of the event, nearly 700,000 people or 13% of New Englanders were powerless. Power crews as far as Canada were called in to assist with the cleanup. Outside of New England, parts of New York saw up to 32 inches of snowfall, significant travel delays were reported in New Jersey, and parts of Interstate 84 were shut down in Pennsylvania due to a ten car accident.