John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
"THIS STORM IS GETTING BEEFY/INTENSIFYING," says our nation's meteorology agency.
This week's nor'easter isn't even fully developed, and it already looks like a monster: a vast sea of thick clouds moves off the East Coast, hairy with hurricane-force winds and crackling with intense lightning activity.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service are percolating with what sounds like a combination of dread and excitement. "THIS STORM IS GETTING BEEFY/INTENSIFYING," writes one in the Boston office (the ALL CAPS are normal for these weather bulletins). "ITS BOMBOGENESIS BABY!" That explosive term means a cyclone is rapidly dropping in pressure, signaling an imminent, powerful intensification. The meteorologist adds this will be a "CRIPPLING AND POTENTIALLY HISTORIC BLIZZARD" for southern New England, and discourages travel for its "SERIOUS LIFE-THREATENING" conditions.
America's space instruments have monitored the swollen system's growth from the beginning. NASA stitched together this animation of a "cold front push off the U.S. East coast followed by a low pressure area from the Midwest"—the same low involved in the looming nor'easter.
At 1:25 pm EST, the Suomi NPP satellite caught the hellacious image of the storm shown above. NOAA explains what it bodes:
This system will be responsible for heavy to intense snowfall and strong winds, with blizzard conditions expected from eastern New Jersey to eastern Massachusetts where Blizzard Warnings are in effect. Accumulations will likely exceed one foot from eastern New Jersey through eastern Maine by late Tuesday. The heaviest snow accumulations, perhaps exceeding two feet, are forecast across portions of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including the Boston area. Currently, New York City is forecast to receive 18-24 inches of snow, and Boston is forecast to receive 24-36 inches of snow. Wind gusts of 45 to 60 mph will be common from eastern New Jersey to eastern Massachusetts, leading to widespread blizzard conditions. Wind gusts up to 70 mph are possible in far eastern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and Nantucket.
The NWS' Weather Prediction Center shows the massive system right off the coast of Massachusetts early on Tuesday morning. Here's its breakdown of potential snow accumulations through Thursday—note the wide expanse of 1-to-2-foot-high snowfalls: