As New Englanders on Saturday brace for a Valentine’s Day snow hurricane, and with snow totals from three major storms in a month approaching eight feet in Boston, the question is worth asking: What in the blizzard is going on?
So far, the barrage of blizzards has been nothing short of historic, with some parts of Maine seeing 100 inches of snow fall in less than a month. There’s no record around showing that’s ever happened before. Boston recorded its snowiest February ever on February 12.
The atmospheric culprit is a hiccup in global weather patterns: powerful low pressure systems out over the Atlantic fed by warm Gulf Stream waters crashing into cold high pressure air systems building in from the Arctic, one after the other.
The kink in the Jet Stream causing the whole mess has led to higher-than-average temps in the West, but yet another rough winter for the East Coast, where temperatures even in Southern burgs like Atlanta stubbornly sink far below average both during the day and night.
New England lovebirds, especially, were concerned as the looming blizzard threatened long-planned Valentine’s Day dinners. As it is, the brunt of the storm isn’t expected until later Saturday into Sunday, so some meteorologists said candle-lit dining was still an option. Moreover, the National Weather Service kept downsizing accumulation expectations, suggesting the blizzard may be remembered mostly as a wind event.
“If you aren't driving very far, why not keep the plans?” the Boston Globe’s weather blogger recommends. “Don’t forget to call the restaurant to cancel if you aren’t going. This is a big night for many restaurants and if you can safely go, it’s a great way to support local business.”
Indeed, prospects of a lost Valentine’s Day service – one of the most prized of the year in the food service biz – comes after New England restaurateurs are reeling from six lost services in less than a month. More broadly, municipal snow removal budgets are socked in, giant heaters are melting mountains of snow in Boston, and driving on Boston's snow-narrowed streets has tested wits and patience as the nation's oldest public transportation system has, again and again, been snow-disabled.
While meteorologists weren’t expecting the kind of two-foot-of-snow events the region is still digging out from, the depth of the fast-moving low pressure system looked poised to create northerly winds flirting with 70-plus miles an hour.
The barometric readings at the center of the storm dipped to a mere 970 millibars, the kind of readings usually taken inside Category 2 hurricanes. Heat convection from the Gulf Stream, which brings equatorial waters toward the North Pole, only fueled the icy conflagration.
New Englanders are hardy, and visions of tulip blooms keep them going.
But at least in the short-term, the snow blitz pattern, which could still make this the snowiest year ever in New England, is likely to continue testing the mettle of the folks up in Pilgrim Country.
Indeed, more snow is on the horizon midweek after the Valentine’s Day blizzard blows itself out by the end of the weekend. And in the short term, Arctic air sinking down behind the blizzard will bring parts of New England the coldest mid-February temperatures in 20 years.
But at least tonight, love should keep everybody warm.