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Halloween's Trick−The October Nor'easter

October 30, 2011

Snow and ice.

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BOO! It’s snowing!

You’ve seen the headlines. The Northeast was hit by a Nor’easter snowstorm that affected 60 million people. Over three million were left without power.

New York City received its earliest inch of snow since the Civil War. (The Civil War was in a long cold period known as the Little Ice Age!)  Pennsylvania, Washington DC and the entire Northeast were buried in snow and then hit by freezing weather.  Brrrr!

The Northeast is not the only cold area. Even Texas, drought-stricken Texas, had snow this month in Amarillo. The Rocky Mountains, including my home 300 miles from the Mexican border, has been buried in white stuff two times in October. Sunny California started the month with heavy rain in the Fresno valley (hammering the drying raisin crop) and snow for the ski resorts in the Sierra Nevadas.

And it is all due to hot water and cold, cold air.

The Atlantic has been unusually hot this year. The Gulf Stream has been flowing very fast, carrying hot tropical water north. It has provided enormous energy and moisture for storms. In summer and early autumn, we saw this in the form of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season. There is usually an average of 9 or 10 tropical storms each year. This year we had 17. Now in late autumn and winter we will see an unusual number of Nor’easters.

The Gulf Stream has been very fast this year, warming the waters of the North Atlantic. SOURCE: NASA

A Nor’easter is when cold air hits warm air from the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. The warm, wet marine air cools, and its moisture snows out. The crash between hot and cold air creates heavy winds and the wet snow frequently ices over and breaks power lines and tree branches. Ocean winds, which blow inland, trap the storm on the coast, so it rolls up the East Coast.

This is just the beginning of a long stormy series. There is a lot of cold air and lots of very hot water. They will be crashing together all winter. It’s just a Halloween trick that the storms are starting this early.

So much for tricks. It’s time to give yourself a treat. Snuggle up in your warm cozy home, drink some hot cider and help the kids pig out on their candy. Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.

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Great in-plain-words

By Mary Geiringer

Great in-plain-words explanation! Thank you
But I do think your last comment was a little insensitive ... "Snuggle up in your warm cozy home" ... there are too many people out there who do not have a "warm cozy home" right now.


By Judy77

Thank you for explaining what is going on so simply and clearly, Evelyn. We were in Quebec for the weekend and came home to an unexpected 26" of snow in Dublin, NH. What a trick-or-treat surprise. Guess its going to be a long winter!

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