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It's Officially Blizzard Season in New England

Updated: Jan 21

New England is getting to the point of the year where snowstorms typically start to ramp up. We like to consider January 15 through March 15 to be "blizzard season." This time frame has seen a vast majority of New England's biggest snowstorms. The major blizzards of 1888, 1960, 1978, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2013, 2015 and 2022 all struck during this two month period. All these storms dropped a maximum snowfall of at least two feet in New England, with most dropping 30-40 inches.

The main reason why these powerful storms tend to hit toward the end of the winter season is due to contrasting temperatures. Blizzards almost always come to New England in the form of a nor'easter. Nor'easters thrive on drastic temperature differences between warmer air over the ocean and colder air over land.

Warm waters in the Gulf Stream help keep northern coastal waters mild in the winter. This keeps the air over the open ocean warmer. Over land in New England, polar and arctic air masses stream southward from Canada into the region, providing cold air over land.

It's this temperature contrast that provides fuel for nor'easters to strengthen. The polar jet stream acts as a steering current for these storms, and depending on the track of the storm, it can deliver a major snowstorm to parts of New England.

This contrast in temperature typically becomes greater as the winter progresses, until it peaks toward the end of the season. This is why snowstorms become stronger and more frequent toward the end of the winter season (i.e. January 15-March 15). Once we get into the spring, the colder air gradually becomes harder to come by (naturally), leading to less of a contrast and nor'easters winding down until it starts over the following fall.

Medford, MA February 15, 2015. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters

One of the most severe blizzard seasons in recent memory for New England was the snow blitz of 2015. This wave of storms began on January 26 with the mighty blizzard of 2015. This was followed by massive storms that hit on February 2, February 7-9 and February 14-15. All these storms dropped at least a foot of snow across the region, with the February 7-9 storm dropping nearly two feet and the blizzard of 2015 dropping three feet.

This epic run of storms pushed the 2014-2015 winter to be the snowiest in Boston's recorded history. 110.6 inches fell that winter. Boston saw over 94 inches of snow in a 30 day period from late January to late February, obliterating the previous record of 58.8 inches.

Before the blizzard of 2015 began on January 26, Boston sat at 10.6 inches total for the season. It was a quiet winter season leading up to this event. Worcester ended up with nearly 120 inches of snow, making 2014-2015 the third snowiest on record.

Tree damage during the "Four'Easters of 2018. Photo: Jesse Costa/WBUR

Another memorable blizzard season occurred in 2018. A nor'easter struck New England every week in March that year. This season comes with a major asterisk as none of these storms were an official blizzard. The final storm also struck just after the (arbitrary) March 15 end date to the season.

They were all, however, nor'easters, and they all did produce snow somewhere in New England. These storms battered the region with intense winds, heavy snow, much tree damage and power outages across New England.

Here in 2024, there are no signals for a blizzard to form and strike New England through the rest of January. There is a chance for a minor snowfall event Tuesday night into Wednesday (January 23-24). A widespread dusting to a couple inches will be possible.

CMC showing potential weather Tuesday night:

Looking further ahead, the Climate Prediction Center favors generally above average temperatures through the start of February. This doesn't mean there won't be any cold snaps during this time frame. A strong El-Nino could favor a large-scale snowstorm to close out the season if the storm can line up with a cold snap. This comes as record warm sea surface temperatures continue. We won't be surprised if at some point before spring, we cover the blizzard of 2024. We'll see.



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