Ready or Not, Winter is Here!

December 1 is the official start of meteorological winter, although most tend to use the astronomical calendar as the official start of seasons. Check out our blog from last year for a more detailed explanation on astronomical versus meteorological winters. Regardless of the official start date of winter, it’s clear that Jack Frost has made his arrival in several parts of the country already! In fact, before anyone had even sat down to enjoy their Thanksgiving meals with their families, winter weather was creating headaches for travelers along the west coast.

Caltrans and California Highway Patrol crews work to clear stranded vehicles from a stretch of northbound Interstate 5 in Northern California Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019.

A “bomb cyclone” hit southwestern Oregon and Northern California the Tuesday before Thanksgiving causing widespread blizzard conditions across the states. A bomb cyclone is defined as a rapidly intensifying storm (or technically, when a cyclone’s atmospheric pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours). This type of event is rare in the western US, and forecasters say it was one of the worst such storms in the past 15 to 20 years. High winds (some gusting to 106 miles per hour!) knocked out power to thousands of customers, and whiteout conditions led to several road closures (some travelers were stranded for 17 hours or more and slept in their vehicles, and one hundred miles of Interstate 5 in Northern California were closed Thursday due to multiple spinouts!). At the peak of the storm, Pacific Power said 19,000 customers were without power in Northern California and Southern Oregon.

As the storm moved eastward, it continued wreaking havoc across the country. Thirty inches of snow fell at the Arizona Snowbowl, and a town near Grand Canyon National Park declared an emergency due to power outages and snow. Travel was discouraged and several roads were closed in Colorado and Wyoming. There were 100 cancelled flights Friday, November 29, and 187 flights were delayed at Denver International Airport on Saturday November 30. Farther east, residents were advised not to travel in much of South Dakota, and strong winds and blowing snow created dangerous travel conditions in parts of western Nebraska and portions of Interstate 80 were closed. The city of Duluth, Minnesota, issued a “no travel advisory” beginning Saturday afternoon. On Saturday, November 30, the National Weather Service in Duluth, Minnesota reported blizzard conditions at the head of Lake Superior with snow falling at a rate of 1 inch per hour and winds gusting above 50 mph. NWS said huge waves were crashing onshore causing lake shore flooding. At least 27 flights were cancelled at Chicago’s O Hare Airport.

The northeast was not immune to travel woes, however, with over two feet of snow falling in several states through Monday evening. Over 700 flights were canceled and more than 5,200 delayed across the country Monday, mostly in the Northeast. Additionally, several schools and businesses were closed (over 670 closings and delays in effect across the Capital region alone!).

Schaghticoke in Rensselaer County was the winner of the greatest snowfall award with 27.5 inches of snowfall from the storm! Clifton Park Center and East Glenville in Saratoga and Schenectady Counties tied for the second highest amount, with both sites receiving 27.2 inches of snowfall. Over 50 observing sites received at least a foot of snow. The Albany International Airport broke records with 22.6 inches of snowfall. The snowstorm now ranks as the 8th biggest snowstorm of ALL-TIME for Albany, and the fourth biggest for December (the period of record dates back to 1874!).

The widespread snow prompted Governor Cuomo to declare a state of emergency in seven counties (including Albany County). By mid-morning, Monday, December 2, state troopers in New York had responded to more than 740 storm-related crashes across the state.

What will the upcoming winter hold? No one knows for sure, but it’s important to make sure you are prepared for everything! Check the forecast daily, have your emergency kits prepped and ready to go, and make sure your whole family knows what to do in the event of an emergency.

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