Major Nor'easter pounds New England; icy mess in the South; record floods in Australia
A classic Nor'easter continues to intensify this morning off the New England coast, bringing heavy snow and strong winds from New Jersey to Maine. The snow has ended in New York City, which received 9.1" at Central Park as of 7am EST. Heavier snows of just over a foot fell on nearby regions, with 12.1" in Bedford Park, 13.2" in Levittown, and 12.5" in East Rutherford, NJ. The heaviest snow is occurring in Connecticut, where a storm-high 23" has fallen so far at North Haven. Twenty-two inches fell at Ridgefield on the Connecticut/New York border. The storm is at peak intensity this morning in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and blizzard warnings are now posted for Boston and the surrounding coast of Massachusetts. Blizzard conditions occur when a storm has frequent wind gusts over 35 mph or sustained winds over 35 mph, plus visibility less than 1/4 mile for at least three consecutive hours. Today's Nor'easter intensified a little more than expected, reaching a central pressure of 983 mb at 8am EST. The storm is currently centered along the Southeast Massachusetts coast, and is bringing very high winds to all of coastal Massachusetts. Winds at the Provincetown airport on the tip of Cape Cod were sustained at 43 mph, gusting to 79 mph, at 6:35am EST. A personal weather station at Humarock Beach in Scituate, southeast of Boston, recorded a wind gust of 64 mph at 5:51am EST this morning. Snow fall rates of 1 - 2 inches per hour are common over Rhode Island, western Connecticut, and much of Massachusetts this morning. Some of the heaviest bands are producing three inches of snow per hour, accompanied by thunder. The highest snowfall amounts in Massachusetts as of 6am EST were 14" at Goshen and Worthington. A few locations in the state may see as much as 20" from the storm.
Figure 1. Morning satellite image taken at 8:30am EST of the Nor'easter of January 12, 2011. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.
Winter misery continues in the South
Meanwhile, travel over much of the nation's South remains difficult this morning due to the winter storm that left up to a foot of snow and dangerous ice accumulations in its wake. Atlanta had all of its interstate highways open this morning, but continued icy conditions resulted in numerous crashes on area roads. With temperatures expected to remain below freezing in Atlanta and surrounding regions today, the area will be slow to shed its coasting of snow and ice. Temperatures will struggle to reach freezing on Thursday, and it is not until Friday that much of the South will see significant melting of their ice and snow. The South's storm began Sunday in northeast Texas and tracked eastward, bringing snow amounts as high as 7 - 8 inches to northeastern Texas and southern Arkansas, 9 - 11 inches to northern Mississippi, northern Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, and southern Tennessee. The heaviest snow as reported in the NOAA Storm Summary occurred in the Smoky Mountains at Bakersville, North Carolina--20 inches. The worst freezing rain was reported in central Georgia at Wrightsville, which received 1.5" of ice. Aiken, South Carolina received 1" of ice, and numerous locations in South Carolina, Central Georgia, and Central Alabama received over 1/2" of ice. Freezing rain amounts of 1/4" were also reported in northern Louisiana, central Mississippi, and western Arkansas.
According to our weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, in his blog post this morning titled, "Snowstorms in the South: A Historical Perspective", the 8.9" that fell on Huntsville, Alabama from this week's storm was that city's third heaviest snow on record. The post has a nice summary of the remarkable heavy snow storms that have hit the South in the past.
Figure 2. A unusually heavy snow storm for North Carolina dropped 20" on Bakersville in the Smoky Mountains, and 7 inches in Asheville, near where this photo was taken. Image credit: wunderphotographer jettking..
Extreme flooding continues in Australia
Flood-weary Queensland, Australia suffered a new flooding disaster on Monday when freak rains of six inches fell in just 30 minutes near Toowoomba. The resulting flash flood killed twelve people, and 40 are still missing. The flood waters poured into the Brisbane River, causing it to overflow, and significant flooding of low-lying areas in Brisbane, Australia's third largest city with some 2 million people, is expected on Thursday. At least 20,000 homes and businesses are expected to be inundated when the Brisbane River crests at a record 18 feet, according to media reports. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) reports that an additional 100+ mm (4") of rain has fallen in the Brisbane area in the 24 hours ending at 9am local time this morning, further adding to the city's flood woes. No further significant rains are forecast in the Brisbane area until next week, though. According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, this is the most significant flooding event in Australia since at least the 1970s. In 2010, Australia had its wettest spring (September - November) since records began 111 years ago, with some sections of coastal Queensland receiving over 4 feet (1200 mm) of rain. Rainfall in Queensland and all of eastern Australia in December was the greatest on record, and the year 2010 was the rainiest year on record for Queensland. Queensland typically has its rainiest years when La Niña events occur, due to the much warmer than average ocean temperatures that occur along the coast. The BOM notes, "Previous strong La Niña events, such as those of 1974 and 1955, have also been associated with widespread and severe flooding in eastern Australia. Sea surface temperatures off the Queensland coast in recent months have also been at or near record levels." The BOM's annual summary also reported, "Sea surface temperatures in the Australian region during 2010 were the warmest value on record for the Australian region. Individual high monthly sea surface temperature records were also set during 2010 in March, April, June, September, October, November and December. Along with favourable hemispheric circulation associated with the 2010 La Niña, very warm sea surface temperatures contributed to the record rainfall and very high humidity across eastern Australia during winter and spring." Beginning in December, the Queensland floods have killed at least 22, and damage estimates are now as high as $13 billion. Queensland has an area the size of Germany and France combined.
Figure 3. Still frame from a remarkable 6-minute YouTube video showing the sad fate of a row of parked cars when a flash flood in Toowoomba, Queensland sweeps away dozens of the cars. A note to the wise: Two minutes into the video, we see a man enter the flash flood to save his car. He is successful, but his actions were extremely risky--most flash flood deaths occur when cars with people inside get swept away. I would not have attempted to save my car in that situation.