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Historic Blizzard of 2016

Posted on Jan 24, 2016

Here we are again – another year, another crippling blizzard crushing the Northeast. This century has been extremely volatile weather-wise for much of the east coast, and the winter seasons alone have been historic in some way nearly every year. We thought for a while that El Niño would keep it a more routine sort of winter, but once it showed it would be the strongest El Niño of all time there were a lot of unknowns…especially after historic warmth had its hold on us through the end of 2015. Basking in the 70s for Christmas, it was nevertheless certain that a cold air mass would eventually come and turn the open and warmer than usual Great Lakes into big snow machines.

Nor’easters are typically more common in El Niño years, but the east coast had been dry and still too warm. That changed rapidly as a large and strong upper level low dumped feet of snow on tens of millions of people this weekend, likely taking advantage of the warmer Atlantic waters to boost its strength, with the clash of cold, dry air and warmer, moister air creating the deformation banding right over the major cities of the Northeast. These numbers are often all-time records and almost incomprehensible.

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I have said it before with tropical cyclones, but it seems rather obvious that the more heat this planet has the more intense storms can become. Differences in temperature and moisture levels drive weather, and when you add fuel to the fire you can get unprecedented results. I should also note that this weekend’s storm was exceptional in terms of coastal impact, worse than Superstorm Sandy in some areas of the Mid-Atlantic and setting all-time high tide records. Beaches from the south to the Cape will have been drastically changed.

There may have been a significant impact across coastal Connecticut, where we work to monitor and protect waterbirds like the Piping Plover, Least Tern, American Oystercatcher, and more in the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds. Nesting areas may have been altered to the degree that some are rendered uninhabitable while others are now perfect for a given species in Connecticut and across the region. Post-storm seasons are often vital for the population dynamics of some of these birds, and this will be an extremely important year for us – and now we have even more work to do. If you would like to become an AAfCW monitor or volunteer with us in other ways please email [email protected] – thank you!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator