It has been referred to as 'Snowmageddon" and "Snowzilla". Blizzard Jonas that hit much of eastern U.S last weekend brought many cities to a standstill and disrupted air travel.
The states hit the most by the storm were New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Washington DC. New York city recorded 26.8 inches in Central Park, Manhattan - the second largest snowfall in history. Roads, bridges, and tunnels into the city were closed.
Blizzard Jonas was a mix of high winds and heavy snow, accompanied at times by thunder. In low lying areas along the coast, flooding was a bigger issue as the wind whipped up high waves. The storm is also blamed for 38 deaths across the region.
Let's take a look at what exactly caused a blizzard of this magnitude to form.
What Is A Nor'easter?
These storms form along the East coast as warm air from over the Atlantic Ocean clashes with arctic cold to the north and west. A nor'easter gets its name from the northeasterly winds that blow in from the ocean ahead of the storm. Nor'easters can occur at any time throughout the year, but they are most common between the months of September and April.
This winter saw an unusually strong El Nino which caused warming of the ocean waters. This resulted in strong jet streams (air currents) forming in the Gulf of Mexico. As the warm air moved inwards, a cold Arctic front came down the Atlantic coast from the north.
The combination of cold Arctic air and warm Gulf Stream air led to a strong churning action in the atmosphere. When this potent mix started moving up the coast, it led to heavy snowfall. In fact, the rare phenomenon of "thundersnow" was observed in many places - where thunder and lightning accompany extremely heavy snowfall.
Fortunately, meteorologists had predicted the severity of the storm, and more than 85 million people in the path of the blizzard were asked to stay indoors.
Link To Climate Change?
This winter has been unusually warm for those living in the US East Coast with temperatures of 76 degrees Fahrenheit! Warm air as you know holds more water. This, along with a warmer Gulf Stream, added more moisture to the air and led to heavier snowfall. This warming is linked in part to climate change.
With the melting of polar ice caps, the ocean levels are rising, and in some places, they are a foot higher than a century ago. This raises the risk of flooding in low lying areas.
"Science suggests that climate change will lead to more of these intense, blizzard-producing Nor’easters, for precisely the reason we’re seeing this massive storm — unusually warm Atlantic ocean surface temperatures," Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann said.