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The Recipe for a Nor'easter

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Nor’easters are the classic New England blizzards and one of the most recognizable weather patterns of the Northeastern United States. As a Connecticut resident, I have experienced many Nor’easters which I love… as long as I am not driving. But have you ever wondered why Nor’easters occur only in specific areas of the country? What is the recipe of a Nor’easter?

The main ingredients of a Nor’easter are cold air and moisture. Generally, the colder the area the less moisture it holds, so these two ingredients need to come from separate sources. Let's zoom out a bit here and pretend you are looking at the earth from space. The warmer air holding lots of moisture is in the south and guided to the northeastern United States from two main forces. First is the westerlies, which is a wind pattern caused by the rotation of the earth or the coriolis effect. The second is the gulf stream which is an ocean current moving north along the east coast and also caused by the rotation of the earth.

You can probably guess that the cold air comes from the north. Occasionally the Northeast is hit with cold polar air that is brought down from the arctic by the polar jet stream. When this cold air comes in contact with the warm moist air, this is how snow is made. Most forms of precipitation are caused by two different air masses colliding with each other. This is why it can feel colder after rain, because a hot air mass was pushed away by a cold air mass, and the meeting of the two caused rain. Nor’easters are so massive though because this is when there is a lot of moisture in the warm air, which translates to lots of snow.

Some other characteristics of a Nor’easter is that the wind needs to be coming from the North east, hence the name of the storm. This means the storm is rotating counterclockwise. Nor’easters are mostly recognized by snow but can also be rain as well if the conditions for the storm are met while the air temperature is too warm for snow to form. The highest rainfall record in 24 hours in Connecticut is 12.77 inches, and the highest snowfall record in 24 hours is 36 inches, or 3 feet!

Nor’easters can be very destructive and deadly. It is an important reminder that humans shouldn’t try to fight nature and instead just admire its power and size. When getting heavy rain and snowfall, it's best to stay home and inside if you can. Pour yourself a hot drink, get yourself a meter stick to measure the depth, and enjoy the show!

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