Winter Hits Hard and Early; Unpredictable Nor’Easter Forming

October was fairly warm, and as recently as a week ago temperatures were in the 50s, but this weekend the coming winter hit us fast and hard.

Untitled

A heavy snow squall slammed through Vermont, leaving 1 to 3 inches of snow just about everywhere. The photo above shows the view from a Williston mini-mall as the snow squall closed in. It also quickly departed, leaving light, scattered snow showers but also frigid air and howling winds.

Untitled

Untitled

Yesterday was awash with blowing snow, in blasts and drifts and the snow equivalent of dust devils. The temperature was in the low to mid teens, which meant wind chills below zero at times. The high temperature in Montpelier yesterday was the lowest ever recorded for the date. Then the wind calmed, skies cleared, and the temperature plummeted to 5 degrees. It would have been a cold January day, to say nothing for the weekend before Thanksgiving!

Today was sunny, but chilly. I took a meandering route home today and I found that the Winooski River had developed plenty of frazil and pancake ice during the cold spell.

Untitled
Untitled
Untitled

Now that the storm and cold blast are out of the way, we are bracing for a bigger storm, albeit not quite as cold. A Nor’Easter is forming right now, as evidenced by a little blob in the Gulf of Mexico. The weather models that predicted this little blog, and the coming storm, nearly a week ago are pretty amazing, but they aren’t perfect. As the storm moves up the coast, it will carry warm air from the Gulf on its east side. On its west side it will suck down cold air for the north. Thus we will likely be left with a storm that dumps snow on Asheville, North Carolina at the same time as drenching rain on Portland, Maine. This is what will happen if what the models are saying right now comes to pass. Most of Vermont would get a burst of snow and various wintry mix conditions Tuesday night, then a quick downpour of an inch or two of rain Wednesday, then a quick blast of a couple of inches of snow and quickly dropping temperatures on Wednesday night. Conditions during this busy travel time will likely be awful, especially Wednesday night as the wet roads freeze and get snow dumped on them.

But… and this is a big but… Vermont is right under the contrast between warm and cold air. If the storm moves just 200 miles east of the current forecast – a not unlikely error with such a storm – Montpelier will likely be digging out from over a foot of snow on Thanksgiving. If the storm goes 200 miles further west of the forecast, we will get mainly rain, and even more of it than forecast. The cold air may arrive too late to replace the light coating of snow that the rain would wash away.

All in all, the most likely result is that on Thanksgiving the view out the window will look much the same – two inches or so of snow – only it will have a bunch of ice under it. Another cold blast is forecast, so any of the ice blown out of the river by the high water that would come with this downpour will quickly reform. And while it is unlikely that winter is now kicking in fully (we often don’t really start building up significant snowpack until around the second half of December, at least in the last decade or two).

The rain that is likely along the coastal Northeast is welcome. The area has been very dry lately and is experiencing drought conditions, even though a few hundred miles to the north Vermont has been rather wet. For this reason, the rain also is unlikely to cause significant flooding, though there may be some minor flooding in parts of Vermont, associated with heavy rain hitting partially frozen ground, light snowmelt runoff, and very small ice jams.

I’ll definitely have an update as things progress. If you have travel plans, watch the situation closely and take care. I’ll thankfully be weathering this storm at home.

Untitled

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *