|January 30 2022
Late January Northeast Blizzard: (1/28 - 1/30)
By: Josh Weiss, WPC Meteorologist
The first official blizzard since 2018 affected much of the east coast of the United States January 28-30, 2022. Snowfall accumulated as much as 30 inches in parts of Massachusetts, with widespread 1 to 2 feet measured from eastern Maryland (MD) on the DelMarVa Peninsula through coastal Maine (ME). Snowfall rates at times reached 3"/hr across New England, which when combined with winds of over 70 mph produced whiteout conditions. This storm was historic, becoming Boston's sixth greatest snowfall ever, and tied for greatest 24-hr snowfall in its 150 year period of record.
A large 500mb trough developed across the eastern United States by January 25, with the primary trough axis centered over the Great Lakes. By January 26, a northern stream 500mb shortwave began to drop out of Alberta, Canada, while a southern stream wave positioned over the Four Corners region started to eject eastward. On the 27th, the northern stream energy rounded the base of the longwave trough, phasing with the weakening southern wave by the 28th to cause amplification of the longwave trough across the Mississippi Valley. This deepening trough then took on a negative tilt across the Mid-Atlantic by January 29, and further intensified into a closed low as it moved across eastern ME and into the Canadian Maritimes during the 30th.
As the 500mb trough amplified across the eastern United States, upper level jet streaks began to intensify. A subtropical jet streak downstream of the primary trough axis accelerated to 130 kts across the Southeast on Jan. 28, and then split as the mid-level trough became negatively tilted. This left a departing jet streak reaching 175 kts over ME, with a secondary jet streak ejecting east of Georgia (GA). The left front quadrant (LFQ) of the southern jet overlapped favorably with the right rear quadrant (RRQ) of the northern jet to produce a coupled jet structure leading to impressive upper ventilation to drive rapid pressure falls. This allowed a surface low pressure to develop off the North Carolina (NC) coast and then explosively deepen as it moved northeast just outside of the Benchmark (40N/70W) on Jan. 29 before lifting into ME and Canada on the 30th. The surface low deepened from 1001mb at 00Z on Jan. 29 to 972 mb at 18Z on the 29th: a 29mb drop in only 18 hours, well above the criteria needed to be classified as a "bomb cyclone."
As the low moved up the coast, ample moisture spread northward and westward as rich theta-e air surged cyclonically into a TROWAL around the surface low. This TROWAL combined with an intensifying deformation axis NW of the 850mb low led to an axis of instability which produced pivoting snow bands with exceptional snow rates reaching 3"/hr at times, especially across eastern Long Island, eastern New England, and Maine. Additionally, as the mid-level trough sharpened down the coast as far as NC on the 29th, this deformation axis pivoted southward around the low, bringing heavy snow as far south as the DelMarVa Peninsula and northeast NC on Jan. 29 before lifting away on Jan. 30. Heavy snow finally came to an end across Downeast ME on the 30th as the surface low shifted across into the Canadian Maritimes.
The Weather Prediction Center began issuing Key Messages for this system as early as the 24th as confidence began to increase in a significant system, and the first winter storm watches were raised across southeast New England on Jan. 26. Winter storm watches were expanded along the coast as far south as northeast NC early on the 27th, and then northward into northern ME during that afternoon. The first winter storm warnings were raised for the DelMarVa and coastal New Jersey (NJ) on the 27th, and blizzard warnings were hoisted from Delaware (DE) through NJ, eastern Long Island, and much of eastern New England on the morning of the 28th.
The most significant impacts occurred across eastern New England and eastern Long Island. Snowfall rates of 3"/hr were common during the afternoon Jan. 29 which when combined with winds gusting over 50 mph created near zero visibility for many hours, producing the first official blizzard for the region since 2018. The National Weather Service officially declared blizzard conditions (¼ mile visibility and 35 mph winds for at least 3 hours) were reached at several stations including Islip, New York (NY), Providence, Rhode Island (RI), Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts (MA), Portland and Augusta, ME, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire (NH).
Snowfall amounts reached as high as 30 inches in Stoughton, Sharon, and Quincy, MA, with many towns eclipsing 2 feet across eastern MA. At Logan Airport in Boston, MA, 23.8" of snow fell, making it the 6th largest snowstorm on record, with the 23.6" falling on Jan. 29 tying the heaviest 24-hr snowfall on record. 24-hr snowfall records were also set at Providence, RI which received 18.8" in 24-hrs (19.3" total, #3 all time) and Islip, NY where 23.5" fell in 24-hrs (24.7" total, #4 all time.) Other impressive snowfall totals across New England included 18" in Brunswick, ME, 13.5" in Rye, NH, and 22" in Norwich, Connecticut (CT). Maximum wind gusts over 70mph were measured at Maxwell Point, ME, Chatham, MA, and Block Island, RI.
The combination of heavy snow and strong winds led to blizzard conditions that paralyzed transportation across much of the Northeast. Across Long Island, 126 car accidents were reported due to whiteout conditions, and bus service across the eastern half of the island was suspended during much of Jan. 29. Lingering snowfall on the tracks led to delays on the Long Island Railway through Jan. 30. Elsewhere across NY, 556 flights were cancelled at LaGuardia airport, with an additional 900 flights cancelled at JFK airport. In Rhode Island, the Governor banned all vehicles from using state roads between 8am and 8pm on the 29th, and the state bridges were closed except to emergency vehicles. Most schools remained closed on Monday the 31st due to slow snow removal.
Massachusetts was the most impacted state from this event. Similar to Rhode Island, Massachusetts banned all trucks from the state highways on Jan. 29, and most bus service was suspended across the state. The MBTA commuter rail had significant delays and many cancellations during the event as snow covered the tracks, and Logan Airport cancelled 91% of its flights on the 29th, with many flights on Jan. 30 also cancelled. Power outages became widespread during the height of the storm, and more than 120,000 people were without power across MA, mostly in the southeast portion of the state. Coastal flooding was significant on east facing beaches, with 2 feet of inundation occurring at Boston Harbor, and significant erosion reported along parts of Cape Cod. The amount of snow forced Boston to open "snow farms" across the area where snow was trucked out of the city and dumped to help facilitate clearing.
In Northern New England, Maine also experienced major impacts due to blizzard conditions and 1-2 ft of snowfall in many of its more populated cities. Both Bangor and Portland suspended public transportation during the storm, and more than 5000 households lost power. Coastal flooding caused some inundation into Hampton Beach, NH during the Saturday morning high tide.
Farther down the coast, significant impacts from this event extended along the coasts of NJ, MD, and far northeast NC. 14" of snow fell in Lewes, DE, and Atlantic City, NJ reported 16", their third highest snowfall ever. The highest snowfall south of New York occurred in Bayville, NJ where 21" was measured. The combination of snow and wind caused official blizzard conditions along the immediate coast with modest coastal flooding also reported. Across Virginia (VA) and northeast NC, 2 to 4 inches of snowfall occurred, including the Virginia Beach and Norfolk areas, with up to 10 inches along the eastern shore of the DelMarVa.
Transportation across the Mid-Atlantic was also severely impacted. Amtrak stopped most of its Washington, D.C. to Boston trains between Jan. 29-30, while 600 flights were cancelled at Newark Airport, and more than 300 flights were cancelled in Philadelphia. NJ, similar to RI and MA, banned commercial vehicles on state roads during the storm, and suspended its bus and rail services across the state. In MD, more than 190 vehicle crashes were reported, and in VA the VA Department of Transportation requested drivers to stay off the roads during the storm, and suspended bus and light rail service on Jan. 29.