The 2017 Blizzard That Blew Away

Mar 22, 2017
Blizzard That Blew Away

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

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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?

atmospheric_river_blue_1_full_width.jpg

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.

mayan_express_march_2016_0_full_width.jpg

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. 

atmospheric_river_snowmaggedon_full_width.png

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

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to "Weather Whispers" by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these blog posts. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.

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