A Nor’easter is THE classic New England snowstorm. It has a classic comma shape when fully formed. There are times when Western Massachusetts can get the most snow when compared to all of southern New England from these storms. This requires that enough warm air be transported into the coastal plain, turning CT and RI and southeastern MA to ice and rain. However, if enough cold air is in place, the areas to the east and south of Western Massachusetts get the most snow from these storms, because they are closest to the storm track.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Nor’easters are named as such, because of the strong northeasterly winds they produce as they approach New England. Usually, the strongest Nor’easters are accompanied by (and paired with) a strong High Pressure system to our north, in eastern Canada. The classic setup is for the High to be located in the province of southern Quebec.
The storm itself generally forms down in the south and taps the warm, moist air of the Gulf of Mexico. These storms then will move over to the Atlantic coast of the southeastern U.S., somewhere at the level of the Carolinas. At this point, they begin to turn more northerly as they tap the warm Gulf Stream waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, and intensify rapidly as they ride up the coast and pass to the southeast of Cape Cod. This is a classic Miller A pattern.
As the intensifying low pressure system approaches New England, the pressure gradient between the Low to the south, and the High to north, creates stronger and stronger winds out of the northeast. Nor’easters can turn into full-on blizzards if the conditions are right, and they normally result in heavy snowfall for Western Massachusetts.
If the snow is accompanied by enough nearby warm air, it can turn very wet, and stick to everything it falls on. When combined with high northeast winds, this can result in widespread power outages. This is what happened with the Halloween Nor’easter of 2011, as well as a powerful snowstorm in May of 1979 that I remember as a kid growing up in Eastern Massachusetts. This why a good Preparedness plan is important to have in place.
To be a New Englander, is to experience Nor’easters!