Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the weekly weather newsletter, which releases every Monday and more often as weather events arise. You can sign up here to receive these every week and during significant storms.
You’ve probably heard rumblings or seen our headlines about the bomb cyclone hitting the Northeast with feet of snow and blizzard conditions. It’s still happening Friday night through Saturday night – and much more likely in places like Boston.
It could also cause problems in New York City, where this storm could deliver literally zero snow or 20 inches.
“There is high confidence that the storm will develop and impact some, or all of the area, with a round of heavy snow and strong winds,” the New York National Weather Service office said Thursday morning.
Yep, there it is: the word, “some.” In this case, people living at the eastern end of Long Island may be more likely to see snow than people living in Manhattan.
I am sure that meteorologists in New York are going as crazy as I am because the forecast models are not in agreement yet. Just look below at the difference between the European and the American forecast weather models.
The European model has New York City right on the edge of the snow/no snow divide, but it still predicts a heaping pile of snow. The American model shows nearly nothing for the nation’s most populous city. Yet another model goes nuts with snowfall, literally painting the city with dark purple – an indication on our maps of a foot or more of snow.
The official range predicted by the National Weather Service in New York is 6 to 8 inches of snow and is the best hypothesis at this time. However, it says there is 1 in 10 chance that this event dumps over 17 inches of snow – while also giving a 10% chance of zero snow.
You can check the snowfall forecast map from the National Weather Service here.
And before you get mad at them (or me) for not knowing precisely what will happen, remember that this storm hasn’t even left the Rockies yet. It isn’t even really supposed to take form until Friday afternoon.
A minor deviation in direction will change everything with this storm, says CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. “It’s like a bowling ball going right down the middle or slightly off-center. You can get a 7-10 split or a strike with only an inch difference.”
There’s also a GPS coordinate that forecasters watch closely with nor’easters called the benchmark. If the storm passes west of the mark and closer to the coast, it will deliver some snow but can also mix in sleet and ice. That is a less likely scenario here.
The closer east the storm gets to the benchmark point, the more snow is likely in the major metros of New York and Boston. This is the Goldilocks of storm track: not too warm, just enough below freezing and close enough to the shore to deliver a lot of moisture for snow. The European model seems to predict this path up the coast.
However, if the storm goes too far east, past the benchmark, it isn’t close enough to the coast to bring the moisture. This is what we see in the American forecast model – too far east to drop the over 2 feet of snow needed to break the city’s record of 27 inches.
Boston could still see a foot of snow based on the American model, but Bostonians, I am sure, laugh at 1 foot of snow.
We will know more after the next model runs early this afternoon and then again early tomorrow morning.
“I think the models will come together as we get closer to the event,” says Myers.
By Friday afternoon, as the low pressure system is forming off the coast of Georgia, we expect the forecast models will really have a good idea and agreement over what exactly the track will be on Saturday.
“We are all impatient with a potential monster storm like this,” Myers said. “Looking for snow totals many days in advance is foolish.”
Yep, Chad just called me out on being impatient. But from what I have seen in emails, so are you.