John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Expect downed trees, massive waves, and widespread, lasting power outages.
Though many people are focused on the New England snowstorm's heavy accumulations—and rightly so, with more than two feet expected in places (see below)—there's a secondary threat looming: powerful, sustained winds roaring in from the coast, which are likely to knock down all kinds of stuff and cause widespread power outages.
The Boston office of the National Weather Service is warning locals that aside "from the snow forecast, wind will be just as bad. Expect strong to damaging winds downing trees, powerlines etc." This map of predicted maximum gusts through Wednesday morning shows why wind is such a big concern here: A large slice of coastline could get scoured by 60-plus mph blasts, with areas closest to the ocean experiencing hurricane-force violence in the high-70 mph range.
Winds of this magnitude can damage structures and fling objects through the air. (Take a moment now to secure the backyard trampoline before it becomes a car-bonking Frisbee.) They can also create jaw-dropping waves, as shown in this Boston-area footage from a nor'easter of similar power in February 2013. The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore says: "Expect more of this on the MA coast!"
As to what these all-powerful gusts will be carrying, have a look at the predicted snow accumulations through Tuesday night. The storm looks like it's dropping a bomb of perhaps 21 inches on Boston and New York, with even higher amounts possible to the west. It's easy to see why Massachusetts has banned travel throughout the state beginning at midnight: