WINTER STORM LEAVES LOTS OF SNOW IN ITS WAKE
March 6, 2001 National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Wyllie saw the ominous signs six days before: A moisture-laden system tracking along the Gulf Coast could intensify into a major Nor'easter off the Eastern Seaboard. A day later, the computer models agreedthe northeast should prepare for the nastiest winter storm in years. (Click NOAA image for larger view of storm aftermath in Center Moriches, New York, Eastern Long Island, March 6, 2001. Click here to view more images.)
"We saw the potential for a massive weekend snow storm but kept the door open for rain in many areas because of the difficulty in pinpointing the rain-snow line," said Wyllie, who serves as the meteorologist-in-charge of the NWS Upton office on eastern Long Island.
Communities from Washington through New England prepared for the worst as food flew off the shelves over the weekend, with Monday seeing school closures, canceled flights, and highway crews loaded up with sand and salt. Media coverage of the potential blizzard was intense.
For New England, where Boston was hit with up to a foot of snow and some higher elevations saw two feet, the "March Lion" did not disappoint. However, in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, rain was the order of the day with only an inch or less of snow falling as the cold air from the north finally made its way south.
Jim Travers worked the forecast desk at the NWS Baltimore-Washington office: "The Nor'easter took its time as it intensified off the coast and spared the nation's capital. But as the moisture wrapped around from the east, the storm drove heavy snow across New England and down through New York City and New Jersey Monday night and into Tuesday," said Travers, who serves as meteorologist-in-charge of the facility at Sterling, Va.
"For areas to the south, it was business as usual, but Northern Massachusetts and southern Maine experienced winds up to 70 miles per hour creating blizzard conditions," Travers said.
Aside from rain, snow, and wind, coastal communities feared another of the Nor'easter's demons: High surf and coastal erosion. Gale warnings were up for much of the seaboard and tides were running a foot and more above normal. Coastal flood warnings were in affect.
According to Paul Vukits of NOAA's Marine Prediction Center, seas crested from 25-30 feet making the off shore waters extremely treacherous. "A Gulf of Maine buoy measured waves up to 27 feet high with near shore towers showing winds up to 70 miles per hour," Vukits said.
The storm had an interesting pedigree. According to meteorologist Wyllie, "The satellite showed moisture streaming in from as far as the Pacific Ocean off of Mexico. The system spawned severe thunderstorms and tornados throughout the Gulf Coast and had the potential to be one of the worst storms since the blizzard of 1978." However, various factors, including a dome of cold air over northern Maine and the storm's slow speed, kept snow to a minimum in some areas, while bombing others. "At one point, the coastal system actually looped back toward land before heading back out to sea," Wyllie said.
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