If you can’t recall the last time such a bizarre snowstorm hit the northeastern U.S. in October, it’s not because your memory’s failing. The nor’easter that dumped snow from Virginia to Maine over the weekend—as much as 30 inches in some places—was something new. “We’ve never seen a storm that produced this amount of heavy snow over such a large area in October,” says Dr. Louis W. Uccellini of the National Weather Service.
Uccellini ought to know. With coauthor Paul Kocin, he literally wrote the book on winter storms in the Northeast. Previous October storms in 1979 and 1987 were smaller in scope and had less impact, he says. With leaves still on the trees from Washington, D.C. to Boston, the heavy snow this time caused many trees to fall on power lines, knocking out electricity to more than 2.5 million people. “We’re in uncharted territory,” Kocin wrote in an email to Uccellini, who directs the National Centers for Environmental Prediction.
What caused this freakish Halloween weather? “You need three things,” Uccellini says: 1) a sustained blast of frigid air from the north and west, 2) a flow of moist warm air from the south, and 3) a low pressure center off the East Coast to mix it all up. “It’s not easy for the atmosphere to do all three,” Uccellini says—at least not in October.
My wife, PJ, and I were almost blown off a pier in Boston on Saturday night, when the storm hit the city. We were attending the wedding of our friends, Harry Sobel and Annie Trombetta, who never dreamed months before that a snow storm was in the cards for the last weekend in October.
What happened to you during the storm? Why do you think we’re getting more extreme weather than we used to—from snow storms and torrential downpours to drought and wildfires? Send us your stories and questions and we’ll pull it all together in an upcoming article in National Geographic Magazine.