9.3 Managing the “Winter Blitz of 2015” in Southern New England

Thursday, 26 January 2017: 4:00 PM
615 (Washington State Convention Center )
Stephanie L Dunten, NOAA/NWSFO, Taunton, MA; and J. W. Dellicarpini and F. M. Nocera

Although the winter of 2014-2015 in southern New England started slowly, with many believing it would be a lean winter, a record-setting snow blitz began in late January and lasted for six weeks.  Much of central and eastern Massachusetts were buried under feet of snow, after what seemed to be an endless series of coastal storms brought blizzard conditions, high winds, and coastal flooding.  In one 30 day period from late January to late February, Boston was hit with four major snow storms and received an incredible 94.4 inches of snow, which broke the prior 30 day record (58.8 inches dating back to 1978).  In the month of February, Boston received 64.8 inches of snow, far above the prior monthly record of 43.3 inches set in January 2005. Measurable snowfall was recorded on more than half of the days in the month and three days had a foot or more of snow.

There were also exacerbating factors. Two of the storms produced high winds of 65 to 75 mph that caused blizzard conditions.  The snowfall was accompanied by sustained cold temperatures. In Boston, a record 22 days experienced maximum temperatures below 32 degrees (which included a stretch of 15 consecutive days). The sustained cold allowed the snow to build up and caused a range of problems involving high snowbanks, narrow streets, roof loading, pipe breaks, and ice dams.

This active period of snow and prolonged cold led to nearly continuous Impact-based Decision Support Services (IDSS) activities at the National Weather Service (NWS) in Boston which included over 180 briefings to Emergency Managers, more than 600 media interviews, and an explosion of social media posts.  The use of experimental coastal inundation forecasts and probabilistic snowfall forecasts was well received by core partners and provided a measure of forecast confidence as well as alternative scenarios for each storm.

This presentation will highlight some of the meteorology behind this historic stretch of winter weather but will focus more on the IDSS provided by the office as well as some of the human factors involved.  IDSS focused on the “before, during, and after” each storm – as well as the “next one” which forced other activities to be put on hold such as training, system maintenance, and outreach.  Staffing became an issue as many people worked long hours under stressful conditions and had to balance life at home. Takeaways will be discussed in order to share best practices as a resource for other NWS offices.

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner