In the immediate Washington D.C. area this storm was an underachiever, but once it reached the metro Boston area it became a big time overachiever. The storm roared out of the Midwest and into the mid-Atlantic region last weekend and early this week. It was forecast to take a path over the waters south of New England but far enough offshore so that eastern Massachusetts received light amounts of precipitation. The major features would be gusty winds and coastal flooding. No one knew just how strong this storm would become, least of all how much snow it would eventually dump on the area.
The gusty and potentially damaging winds were forecast well in advance of the storms arrival and they began to howl during Wednesday and did not quit until Friday night. Strong northeast winds gusting 40 to 50 mph were common along the coast and helped to pile water along the eastern Massachusetts shore. Because this was a long duration event the coast would see at least three and maybe four high tide cycles where flooding would be likely. The usual vulnerable areas such as Plum Island, Salisbury, Scituate, Marshfield and down to Cape Cod all sustained moderate to serious flooding and in some cases major damage to property. A waterfront home on Plum Island toppled over and was teetering on the edge of falling into the ocean. There were rescues made by officials in some of these waterfront communities. Other areas saw incredible displays of waves pounding seawalls and splash over onto shore roads as offshore waves ran as high as 30 feet and a storm surge up to 3 feet higher than normal.
The third big impact was the snow and this area of the forecast was one that local forecasters wrestled with through Thursday and Thursday night. After snowing all day on Thursday, with very little accumulation to show for it, the forecast appeared on track. Very early Friday morning it was apparent things had gone very wrong overnight. Early commuters had to be wondering what was going on as the snow was falling at a 1 to 2 inch per hour clip. Although some communities had made the early call to close schools or have a delayed opening, many others scrambled at the last minute to close as it was apparent the earlier forecast was going to be wrong. And, there were schools that remained open as over a foot of snow fell outside.
Although the storm track was about 600 miles to our southeast, normally a track that produces very little if any precipitation locally, this one was producing snow that was quickly piling up Friday morning and it caught just about everyone off guard. Local weather forecasters scrambled to update forecasts but by that time it was too late.
Several things occurred that turned the forecast from a light to moderate snowfall to one that we will talk about for a very long time.
Winds turned more toward a north and northeast direction which helped drop the temperature by a few degrees. An east to northeast flow would have kept it a bit milder and could have actually produced a mix along the coast. This would have kept accumulations down significantly there while inland sections received 4 to perhaps 8 inches of heavy wet snow. But, with the wind direction change and the resulting temperature drop the snow became fluffier and piled up quickly even along the coast.
The real kicker was the plume of moisture over the Atlantic that became a conveyer for bands of heavy snow dropping significant amounts Friday morning and into the afternoon.
When all was said and done the Boston metro area and eastern Massachusetts received a general 12 to 20 inches of snow with some just south and southwest of the city recording near two feet. It turned out to be a disastrous forecast as the 4 to 8 inch forecast turned out to be one to two feet of snow!
As Terry Eliasen, Meteorologist, WBZ-TV CBS Boston put it: “I wish I could say that we won’t get fooled again, but we all know that not be true. We are in the business of predicting the future, the future of an endlessly moving and changing atmosphere.”