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The Winter Storm Scale: A measure of the ability of winter storms to disrupt society

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Wednesday, 26 January 2011
The Winter Storm Scale: A measure of the ability of winter storms to disrupt society
Washington State Convention Center
Brian J. Cerruti, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ; and S. G. Decker
Manuscript (259.2 kB)

Adverse winter weather can disrupt society through power outages, impassible roads, school closings, and many other impacts. These societal impacts, which we refer to as realized societal disruption, are a function of 1) the susceptibility to winter weather of a particular society, and 2) the intrinsic disruption caused by the meteorological conditions associated with winter storms. We have devised a Winter Storm Scale (WSS) to categorize the intrinsic disruption using surface weather observations from the East Coast of the United States, which can be used in both historical and forecasting contexts. The scale uses sustained winds, wind gusts, snowfall and icing accumulations, and visibility to arrive at a categorical value between 0 and 5 inclusive that measures a storm's intrinsic disruption at a given location. The fact that a particular storm's WSS value will vary with location allows for the intrinsic disruption of a storm to be compared spatially and can facilitate the creation of an intrinsic disruption climatology for surface stations reporting the necessary variables.

All winter storm events observed at Newark Liberty International Airport (KEWR) over the 15 cold seasons from 19951996 to 20092010 are categorized using the WSS, and newspaper reports are used to measure the realized disruption each storm produced. By focusing on one location, the variability in the susceptibility factor is reduced, and the relationship between the intrinsic disruption as measured by the WSS and the realized disruption can be quantified. Additional storms going back to 1956 are also analyzed to provide a larger sample of higher-end events, and the storm of 10 February 2010 is analyzed at multiple locations to demonstrate how the scale can be used to infer societal susceptibility to winter storms.