Major Long Duration Nor'easter
Coming only eight days after the severe Christmas day, 2002 Nor'easter plastered the area with record amounts of snow ranging from 15"-25" on average, the atmosphere reloaded with another knockout winter punch. A second powerful Nor'easter hammered the Northeast with just about the same amount of snow as the Christmas day storm. The snow storm total of 20.8" at Albany, only two tenths of an inch less than the Christmas storm, shattered records again. Exactly 12" of snow fell on Friday, January 3rd, setting a new 24 hour snowfall record for the day, breaking the old record of 9.8" that was set in a large storm in 1996. The 8.8" of snow that then fell on Saturday, January 4, also broke the twenty four hour record for that date of 7.3" set previously in 1942. The storm total of 20.8" was good for the second all time heaviest January snow storm at Albany since records began in the mid 1800's and was also heavy enough to fall right behind the Christmas storm ranking it as the 10th heaviest of all time. The two storms combined produced an incredible 41.8" of snow at Albany...which, shy 5.6", was the total amount of snow dumped on Albany in the entire 2001/2002 season!
Unlike the Christmas storm, this storm progressed over a much longer period of time, lasting approximately thirty five hours. The first flakes of snow, somewhat indirectly related to the main storm, began late at night on Thursday, December 2, amounting to flurries in the region. Light accumulating snow began between 6:00am and 8:00am Friday morning as warmer, moist onshore flow moved inland over a dome of mid twenty degree air, rising, and creating the light snow. Upper level low pressure, located over the Midwest during the morning of the 3rd, moved east into Pennsylvania by evening aiding in the production of a surface storm along the mid Atlantic coast. The combined effects of the developing surface storm enhancing the onshore flow, and the lift in the atmosphere generated by the upper air low pressure system generated waves of moderate to at times heavy snow that progressed through the morning, afternoon, and night of the 3rd. Snowfall rates climbed at times to as high as two inches per hour, but generally did not remain at that rate for more than an hour at a time in any one location. The coastal storm tracked to southern New Jersey during the night, then south of New England to about Cape Cod by Saturday morning, January 4. (This track was a bit south of the Christmas 2002 storm) This storm's intensity remained considerably below that of the Christmas 2002 storm as well, and was moving much more slowly. The slower motion of the surface storm and the path of the parent upper air low pressure system directly across New York and New England created a situation that supported a prolonged period of snow that fell at varying intensities through the storm's duration. Snow in fact fell across a good portion of eastern New York and western New England well into Saturday evening. Although, the bulk of the heavy accumulating snow had ended between 7:00 and 8:00 am on Saturday. Only an additional 1"-3" of snow fell Saturday afternoon and evening.
As was observed in the Christmas day storm, several banding features developed with this Nor'easter. The banding, however, was not as organized or as strong as was observed in the Christmas storm. A semi stationary moderate to heavy snow band, however, did set up over especially Montgomery and Otsego counties, eventually affecting much of the Catskill region producing particularly heavy snow in those areas up to, and in a few cases, in excess of two feet.
A strong blocking surface high pressure system over southeast Canada kept snow out of Hamilton, Warren, northern Washington, and Rutland counties through much of Friday the 3rd. However, as the storm got going along the coast, moving closer, snow eventually arrived during the night of the 3rd. Much of the heavier north country snow, however, came with the storm's backlash on Saturday the 4th, as the system was pulling out.
A period of mixed snow and sleet did occur across Ulster, Dutchess, and Litchfield counties, but was not sufficient to bring down snow accumulations significantly in those areas.
As the upper level mechanisms to produce snow with this storm were weaker than those observed in the Christmas day storm, compensating mechanisms of a deep easterly flow around the storm center and the slower motion of the system took over to create snow of equal magnitude to the Christmas event. The snow making easterly flow, however, was blocked by the Green Mountains and Catskills in places as mountain shadowing was observed with lighter snow totals in eastern Washington county, southwest Bennington county, VT and across western Greene county and even in parts of Schoharie county. WxNet 6 spotters in Cossayuna in southwest Washington county reported 19" of snow, but in nearby Salem, shadowed by a mountain, only 9" of snow was reported. Similar effects were noted in Bennington, VT, as well as in Ashland, and Lexington in Greene county. These lighter snowfall totals, however, were much more the exception than the rule but very common to see in storm's of this nature. In storms, like the Christmas 2002 event, where there are other mechanisms in the atmosphere generating lift and hence the snow, mountain shadowing effects are mitigated.
Wind never became an issue with this Nor'easter, as the system did not explosively intensify along the coast. The coastal storm, was in fact, only moderately strong in the end. Therefore, no strong air pressure gradients developed to create wind therefore, blowing and drifting snow was minimized. Temperatures did remain steady in the mid to upper 20's through the event which lead to a rather light, dry, and fluffy snow. Nevertheless, trees and power lines, still coated with a layer of ice from the New Year's night moderate ice storm, were easily coated with the snow. The additional weight on power lines and branches brought some down leading to numerous power outages throughout the region which lasted up to two days after the snowstorm had ended.
The graphic below illustrates the snowfall distribution from this storm as reported by the exclusive WRGB WeatherNet 6 weather watcher network. The table below the graphic list the specific town by town WxNet 6 snowfall reports and those reports collected by the National Weather Service Cooperative Observers.
WeatherNet 6 Town By Town Snowfall Totals For the January 3-4 Major Nor'easter