Meteorologist: Northeast Has Snowiest Winter Since 1717
This past winter broke tons of low temperature records across the eastern seaboard, but would you have guessed the Northeast just had the snowiest winter since the “Little Ice Age”?
“Looking back through accounts of big snows in New England by the late weather historian David Ludlum, it appears for the eastern areas, this winters snowblitz may have delivered the most snow since perhaps 1717,” wrote seasoned meteorologist Joe D’Aleo with Weatherbell Analytics.
“That year, snows had reached five feet in December with drifts of 25 feet in January before one great last assault in late February into early March of 40 to 60 more inches,” D’Aleo wrote. “The snow was so deep that people could only leave their houses from the second floor, implying actual snow depths of as much as 8 feet or more.”
The New England Historical Society wrote that the so-called “Great Snow” of 1717 was so intense that “Puritans in Boston held no church services for two successive weeks” — and if you know anything about Puritans, you know they don’t take missing church lightly.
“Entire houses were covered over, identifiable only by a thin curl of smoke coming out of a hole in the snow,” the Historical Society noted. “In Hampton, N.H., search parties went out after the storms hunting for widows and elderly people at risk of freezing to death.” Sometimes snow would pile so high people would burn “their furniture because they couldn’t get to the woodshed.”
“It wasn’t uncommon for them to lose their bearings and not be able to find the houses,” the society wrote in its account of winter 1717. “People maintained tunnels and paths through the snow from house to house.”
Luckily, in the modern world snow storms are more manageable thanks to plows, de-icing agents and so forth, but even so, some East Coast cities were caught off guard by the extraordinary amount of snow and record cold.
In late January, New York City shut down transit services in the face of about two feet of snow. Similar moves were made in New Jersey, even though the blizzard was not nearly as bad in these two states compared to states in New England.
During that same blizzard, about 30,000 homes in the Boston-Cape Cod area lost power, and near-80 mile per hour winds were reported on Martha’s Vineyard. By March, the city of Boston had gotten more than 110 inches of snow– an all-time record.
Federal agencies in Washington, D.C. shut down in mid-February when the National Weather Service predicted there would be six to eight inches of snow on the ground. The U.S. government was shut down again in early March when forecasters predicted six to seven inches of snow.
The D.C. area’s public schools were also shut down, with students in Fauquier County, Virginia getting 11 snow days and Howard County, Maryland getting seven snow days.
Meteorologists and climate scientists have hotly debated what has caused fierce winters in the last two years. Some climate scientists say it’s global warming, saying warmer temperatures in the Arctic have made the jet stream more wobbly or that warmer temperatures caused more precipitation to build up leading to bigger snowstorms.
Others have argued natural climate cycles are driving the heavy snowfall. Two recent studies from the University of Washington argue that activity in the Pacific Ocean drove warm, dry air into the western U.S. while forcing cold, wet air east.
D’Aleo says a “super La Nina in 2010/11 (2nd strongest in 120 years, by some measures), set up warm water in the central Pacific and cold water near the west coast of North America” and caused drought in the west and frigid weather in the east.
“That warm water came east first to off of Alaska last year leading to the historic winter near the western Lakes and North Central and then the warm water was carried by the currents southeast to the entire west coast forcing the cold to take aim more on the eastern Lakes and Northeast,” D’Aleo wrote.
“The combination of cold and snow here to northern areas and back to the Great Lakes the last two winters, harkens back to the Little Ice Age that ended in the early 20th century,” D’Aleo wrote.
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