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Winter Forecast Update: Colder February, increased snow chances

What a turn around this winter has been able to pull off over the past week or two. Record-breaking warmth in December gave way to arctic blasts and a historic, crippling blizzard this month. We also saw an atypical fantastic performance prior to the blizzard by the NAM model for this region. We warned the winter could return with a vengeance in a public article we wrote shortly after Christmas. Pattern signals and ensemble guidance were strongly hinting at opportunities for more cold and snow.

While many aspects of our Winter Forecast published in November have worked out, there have been setbacks and surprises as well. This post will serve as an update and stepping stone for the several weeks of winter still left to come.

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Was the NAM’s blizzard forecast really that good?

Oh, the NAM. The source of so many colorful snowfall projections that spread like wildfire across social media. The weather model that gives meteorologists fits multiple times per season. The weather model that can pick out thunderstorms two days in advance, and completely mishandle a snowstorm at a 24 hour lead time. And now, the weather model that absolutely nailed the forecast for the Blizzard of 2016 in New York City.

The Blizzard of 2016 will likely go down as one of the most effectively modeled snowstorms in meteorological history. The signal for the storm system was evident as far as 8 days in advance (arguably longer via long range pattern recognition). Long range ensemble guidance and even individual operational model runs showed the storm systems evolution consistently 6 to 8 days in advance, with increasing agreement on a major low pressure system off the East Coast. And, up until Day 5 or so, the agreement was relatively unanimous among major global models such as the GFS, Euro and Canadian.

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Buried: Blizzard of 2016 becomes one of the greats

Let’s get this out of the way: On Wednesday evening, we made a post explaining why we were confident New York City would avoid blockbuster snowfall totals from this weekends storm.

We were wrong.

A last minute, buzzer-beater type north trend resulted in tremendous heavy snow bands moving over New York City on Saturday. All-time snowfall records were broken at Kennedy Airport (30.5″), LaGuardia Airport (27.9″). Central Park reported its second largest snowfall of all time at 26.8″, just .1″ shy of the record set back in February 2006. The impacts on the area were immense – with New York City shut down to all travel from 2:30pm Saturday until 7:00am Sunday.

The atmospheric dynamics at play during the storm system were even more incredible than the snow that fell. Tremendous lift, energy, and moisture surged northward on Saturday as a low pressure system tucked in near the Mid-Atlantic Coast. Bands of heavy snow surged north through New Jersey, with whiteout conditions and snowfall rates of 2″ per hour. These bands of snow quickly made their way toward New York City and Northeast New Jersey on Saturday morning — setting up from southwest to northeast through NJ, NYC, Long Island, and SW CT.

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Significant winter storm to impact the area through Saturday

A strong low pressure system, developing off the coast of the Carolinas, will move northward on Friday and Saturday while developing into a significant Nor’Easter. This storm system will move to a position off the Mid-Atlantic Coast on Saturday, pushing bands of heavy snow into New Jersey, New York City, and Long Island. Conditions are expected to rapidly deteriorate across Southern and Central New Jersey during the evening on Friday, with travel becoming extremely difficult and dangerous on Saturday.

The northern extent of the bands of heavy snow remain in question, with a tremendous cutoff in snowfall expected from south to north. Forecast models indicate the potential for gradient of almost 18 inches of snow in less than 25 miles near the latitude of New York City. Confidence is much higher in prolific snowfalls to the south of New York City, across Southern and Central New Jersey.

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