Technonlogy

Blockbuster storm slams East Coast, cutting power to 1.3 million

More than 1.3 million residents of the Northeast U.S. were in the dark on Monday morning after an unusually fierce coastal storm rapidly intensified and slammed into New York State overnight. The storm knocked out power to more people across the region than any other storm since Hurricane Sandy hit exactly 5 years ago. 

Winds gusted higher than hurricane force from eastern Long Island to Maine, with a peak wind gust of 93 miles per hour recorded in Mashpee, Massachusetts. 

On the 6,288-foot tall summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire, where the highest wind gust on Earth was recorded in 1934, the wind hit 129 miles per hour overnight on Sunday into Monday, the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane.

More than 1.3 million customers lost power, mostly in New England, the most since Sandy hit the region. On Monday, there were 300,000 customers in the dark in Massachusetts.

In Maine, more than 400,000 people lost power from the high winds, which means that about one-third of the state’s entire population were without electricity. According to the National Weather Service, the extent of the power outage exceeded that of a crippling ice storm that hit there in 1998. 

The circulation around the storm pulled tropical moisture from as far south as the Caribbean directly north by more than a thousand miles, dumping tropical downpours on places like New York City, Hartford, Boston, and Portland, Maine. Flood warnings were issued as highways and city streets were overwhelmed by rainfall rates of 1 to 3 inches per hour. Because the storm moved quickly, rainfall totals were relatively limited, with peak amounts of near 6 inches in some parts of New York and Connecticut. 

The low pressure area intensified rapidly enough to be known as a weather ‘bomb,’ which refers to the process called “bombogenesis.” To qualify under this terminology, a storm has to have its minimum air pressure fall by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. This storm exceeded that criteria. 

Because of the rapid intensification, air rushed toward the low pressure center to fill a growing atmospheric void. This created a large area of strong winds that hammered coastal New England in particular. Specifically, a narrow highway of strong winds just above the surface of the ground, known as a low level jet, passed over eastern Massachusetts and then rotated up into coastal New Hampshire and Maine. These winds occasionally reached down to the surface, resulting in damaging wind gusts. 

Here are some of the strongest winds recorded during the storm so far:

  • Massachusetts: 92 mph in Mashpee

  • Connecticut: 66 mph in Groton

  • New Hampshire: 129 mph on Mount Washington

  • Rhode Island: 69 miles per hour in Charlestown

  • Vermont: 115 miles per hour in Stowe

  • Maine: 72 miles per hour near Penobscot

The storm center was located over Quebec as of early Monday afternoon, but its circulation was roiling the waters of Lake Ontario and delaying flights across New England due to strong winds. 

Had this weather system occurred just two months later, though, it would have been a blockbuster snowstorm from Maryland to New York State. Perhaps we’ll see another one like this in coming months?

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