The 2017 Blizzard That Blew Away

March 22, 2017
Blizzard That Blew Away

More than 5,000 flights were canceled for no reason.

Delta News Hub

It was the giant blizzard that was scheduled to paralyze New York City and predicted to become “life-threatening” in Philadelphia. 

Local governments responded sensibly. Warnings were issued and road clearing equipment readied. Schools closed. Amtrak canceled and modified its service while airlines canceled more than 5,000 flights.

Then the storm hit—and missed. Fortunately, the brunt of it did not hit the vulnerable cities. Instead, the whole system hit further west and north, into areas much more used to coping with harsh conditions.  The reality did not begin to live up to the hype.

So what happened with this blizzard?

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Blame Atmospheric Rivers Source: NASA

Yes, those “atmospheric rivers” struck again. If you aren’t familiar with this term, get to know these rivers of the sky because they affect you!

They have been slamming California., helping to end much of the drought. However, these tropical rivers are not just a West Coast phenomenon. They can hit almost anywhere north or south of the equator.

Remember, the tropics are hot and wet. The rotation of the Earth just forces the spray north or south of the equator. The moisture forms rivers in the sky, thousands of miles long but only a few hundred miles thick.  Just one can carry more water than the Earth’s largest river, the Amazon.

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Atmospheric rivers can hit almost anyplace.

You can see these rivers coming on satellite photos and issue warnings. In the West and Central US, these Pineapple Expresses and Mayan Expresses usually cause floods. On the East Coast, if they arrive in winter, they are called Nor’easters and can cause major blizzards if they hit cold continental air.

An extremely cold front was hitting New York just as models showed an atmospheric river would rip up the coast. If the models were right, there would be a blizzard. 

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It’s very hard to predict where a Nor’easter “river” will hit. Source: NOAA

However, predicting where a river would hit is like predicting the spray from a flopping fire hose. It’s easy to say that it would hit a large state like California or Texas. It’s harder to pinpoint that it will hit a city. The “firehose” spray shifted slightly westward.

Whoops! S’now go after all!

About This Blog

The column, “Weather Whispers,” is authored by James Garriss and Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologists and weather addicts!  Whether you enjoy the science of weather or the fascinating folklore or just fun weather phenomena, it’s probably covered by these weather watchers!

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