December 4, 2020

The Season's First Big Nor'easter Could Bring A Foot Of Snow To Interior New England


The first significant nor'easter of the season will bring heavy snow to parts of New England this weekend. It's got everything: a sharp cutoff in totals, uncertain snow amounts, and small changes in the storm's path having a big impact on what ultimately happens. Hey, at least we're not talking about hurricanes anymore, right?

The storm that will become the nor'easter—which, by the way, doesn't have a name, since we don't name winter storms in the United States—will get its act together tonight over the southeastern states. Precipitation will begin as heavy rain and thunderstorms in the Carolinas as the low-pressure system organizes and starts to move toward the coast.

Here's what to expect.

Rain And Severe Thunderstorms


Heavy rain and thunderstorms will begin to overspread the Carolinas tonight through early Saturday morning. Not only will the rain be quite heavy at times—with a quick inch or so of rain possible—but there's a possibility for severe thunderstorms in eastern North Carolina.

The Storm Prediction Center issued a slight risk for severe weather across the far eastern portion of the state through Saturday morning, with a marginal risk extending westward into the Piedmont Triad.

The greatest risk will be damaging wind gusts of 60 MPH, but tornadoes are possible, especially in the slight risk area in eastern N.C. There will be enough wind shear on the eastern side of the developing nor'easter that discrete thunderstorms ahead of the main line could rotate and produce tornadoes.


Elsewhere, it's just a heavy rain threat. Precipitation will fall as rain across most inland and coastal areas until you reach deep into New England. Even areas that could see snow at the end of the storm, such as Boston and Portland, will see rain for most of the storm.

The heaviest totals are likely along the coast—Cape Cod could see up to two inches of rain by the end of the storm. This isn't a blockbuster rain event, but it could cause some flooding issues, especially where any storm drains are clogged by fallen leaves.

Snow


Plenty of cold air over interior New England will ensure that the northwestern side of the storm will produce the first decent snowstorm of the year for the region. The latest forecast from the National Weather Service calls for more than half a foot of snow through much of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, with the greatest totals likely from northern New Hampshire northward into Quebec. Augusta, Maine, could see more than a foot of snow by the end of the storm.

Precipitation will begin as rain on Saturday, quickly changing over to snow as the evening wears on. Snow will continue through Sunday afternoon as the storm pulls away into Atlantic Canada. There's a decent chance that rain will end as snow near the coast, possibly bringing a light blanket of snow to Boston.


The first big snow of the year is a big deal no matter where you live because it takes a little while to acclimate yourself to shoveling, walking, and driving in the stuff. The Weather Prediction Center's new Winter Storm Severity Index (WSSI) calls for minor to moderate impacts across the region, mostly for a combination of snow amounts and the "snow load," which is the weight of wet snow on trees, power lines, and roofs. This is going to be a wet snow, so that'll increase the risk for downed tree limbs, power outages, and it'll make it more difficult to shovel.

It's important to remember one of the rules of winter weather forecasting: small changes in storm track have a big effect on the final result. This especially holds true for nor'easters. If the storm moves one or two dozen miles to the east or west of what forecasters expect, it would move the axis of heavy snow accordingly. That could mean that areas expecting minor (or no) accumulations wind up with a shovelable snow, while areas bracing for a big thump get less than expected. Keep checking forecasts this weekend so you're ready if things change in your area.

Wind

It's going to get pretty windy behind the system. Gusts of 40 MPH are possible well behind the system into the Carolinas, which could lead to sporadic power outages where trees, already stressed by the parade of storms this summer and fall, struggle to keep their grip in the wet soil.

Up north, gusty winds will follow the snow on Sunday. Wet snow is bad enough on tree limbs and power lines, but the added stress of gusty winds could cause some issues. The risk for power outages ticks up with heavier totals, so folks from Worcester, Massachusetts, north through interior Maine should be ready for at least a day or so without power, just in case.


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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I ran Gawker's The Vane for two years and I've contributed to Mental Floss, Forbes, Popular Science, and the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. I also teamed up with Outdoor Life to write a book called The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, which came out in October 2015.

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