Snowmageddon: Snowstorm likely to be historic

Snowfall that began late Tuesday was more of a nuisance than a big to-do, but it made for a picturesque scene north of Leesburg.
Snowfall that began late Tuesday was more of a nuisance than a big to-do, but it made for a picturesque scene north of Leesburg. (Tracy A. Woodward/the Washington Post)

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Matt Rogers
Meteorologist, Capital Weather Gang
Friday, February 5, 2010; 1:00 PM

"It is hard to believe that we're about to see another storm like we saw in December -- usually a once in several year occurrence. But it's real and it's becoming increasingly likely that a historic event is in the cards. If you have any doubts, check out this satellite shot showing amazing moisture feeds into what is already a gigantic system. The time is now to make final preparations as we are less than 24 hours out from the start," reports the Capital Weather Gang in its latest blog post.

Matt Rogers, meteorologist with the Gang, will be online Friday, Feb. 5, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the latest forecast for the approaching storm.

Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.

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Capital Weather Gang: Hi, this is Matt Rogers again from the Capital Weather Gang. I look forward to taking your questions for the next 45 minutes.

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Elkins, W.Va.: Top 3 snow accumulation amounts and dates for D.C.? Thanks! Enjoy the snow.

Capital Weather Gang: This is a great chart on the Washington Post website that gives you the top TEN. Notice our December 2009 storm made the list!

http://media3.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2010/02/05/GR2010020500239.gif

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Walpole, N.H.: The Mid-Atlantic has gotten more snow than we have up in New England. Haven't shoveled in weeks...and I love it!

When I lived in D.C. during the President's Day storm a few years back, it took almost a week to get the side streets cleared. What do you think the time frame will be for this storm?

Capital Weather Gang: Yes, I was here for President's Day 2003 storm and you were right, it seemed like forever to get out of those side streets. I'm afraid this may have a similar story since temperatures are not expected to warm too much in the days following.

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Washington, D.C.: Please tell me that this will be too much snow and too hard to clean by Monday? Thereby necessitating OPM to close the government?

Capital Weather Gang: I wish I could answer that. We are in uncharted waters here with snow levels we have not seen in a very long time. The local governments will definitely be challenged.

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washingtonpost.com: Seasonal snowfalls at Reagan National Airport

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Lorton, Va.: The snow is supposed to be a wet heavy type this time -- how much will the wind affect the snow on the ground -- not the falling snow -- and will the wind be strong enough to blow snow off the roof? (Just trying to guess if we'll have to shovel snow off the porch roof...)

Capital Weather Gang: That is actually my personal hope that the winds tonight and tomorrow will help to dry out the wet snow and allow it to blow off the rooftops. Getting 20+ inches of heavy wet snow on top of roofs is a concern of mine for the entire area.

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Thomas Circle, D.C.: I just wanted to offer a quick word of thanks and praise to the CWG team -- yours is one of the best blogs on the Web. Seriously!

Capital Weather Gang: Thanks! I joined the "gang" two years ago. I'm impressed by this time of hard-working weather folks.

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Great Falls, Va.: What about the next storm? When and how much snow?

Capital Weather Gang: The details on the next storm are in flux. The timing seems to be slowing toward late Tuesday into Wednesday. And there might be a better chance of mixed precipitation (sleet or freezing rain) due to one of the low pressures passing to our west and north. This is looking trickier, but at least at this point, precipitation amounts are much lower than this current behemoth.

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Alexandria, Va.: Love reading the CWG -- but not knowledgeable enough about weather to follow all the debate and discussion. Got any Web sites to recommend that people like me can read while we're snowed in?

Capital Weather Gang: I always recommend the USA Today Weather Book by Jack Williams. I'm not sure if it is in a download-able format for e-books or not, but it was always a straight-forward read for the beginners.

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Columbia, Md.: Why are the snow totals for Washington usually lower than Baltimore and other areas to the north? We live in Columbia. For example, we got about 23 inches in the December 2009 storm, while D.C. got around 16 inches.

Capital Weather Gang: The DC measuring site is right at National Airport which is just at the edge of the Potomac. Those warmer influences combined with the lower elevation there always seems to make the DC observation the lowest of the bunch. I expect they'll be on the low end of the range this time too.

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Columbia, Md.: The National Weather Service accumulation forecasts have gone up steadily since yesterday (18-24") to this morning (20-28")to around noon today (20-30"). So, the trend seems to be toward more snow... What's changed over the past day that is pushing this expectation upward, and what's your latest thinking on the likely totals?

Capital Weather Gang: The short-range guidance has been steadily increasing the precipitation capacity of this storm. And looking at radar and satellite, one can see why...just a massive fetch of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico AND from across Mexico from the Tropical Pacific. This storm is really juiced up.

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Herndon, Va.: Is there a good resource for up to the minute accumulation levels?

Capital Weather Gang: Not to my knowledge. We will be posting that info on our Capital Weather Gang blog and check the comments section this weekend for updates from all of you. I know I will be watching.

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Warrenton, Va.: CWG gang, you guys rock.

Come on over for homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Capital Weather Gang: Thanks, will be right down.

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: Could you give us some details on the winds that are supposed to be coming through tonight?

Capital Weather Gang: Great question. I just looked at the latest guidance and I believe we'll really start to notice the winds later this evening perhaps toward 9 or 10pm. Could see breezy 10-20mph winds but then gusts to 30 at times overnight into much of the day tomorrow. Higher winds east of the city and much higher over in Delmarva.

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Ashburn, Va.: When do you expect Dulles Airport to reopen assuming it closes tomorrow or tonight?

Capital Weather Gang: This is tough to say, but keep in mind that even when it opens, there will be tons of delays and slow traffic. My guess is late Saturday or Sunday...

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washingtonpost.com: Capital Weather Gang Blog

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Falls Church, Va.: Will the snow this time around be better snowman making snow?

Capital Weather Gang: Yeah, I think so, especially this evening...it may get drier tomorrow as our temperatures get colder though.

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Woodbridge, Va.: It's hard to believe that the weather service has increased forecasted totals to 20-30 inches! It seems though that the ground is too warm right now for the snow to stick, won't this cause much less accumulation than expected?

Capital Weather Gang: I don't think so at this point because snow coming down now is mostly light. Once the heavier precipitation arrives later this afternoon and once temperatures cool a bit further, the accumulations will likely begin.

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Reston, Va.: It started snowing at 10 a.m. here, so it's been falling for three hours now. It hasn't started sticking yet. Is the prediction still for 6-8" by nightfall?

Capital Weather Gang: I believe we could reach those totals between 7 and 10pm tonight. So by "early nightfall"?

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Washington, D.C.: Can we expect widespread power outages with this kind of storm?

Capital Weather Gang: The first half of the storm will especially be on the wet snow side so it can put strain on branches and wires. With more winds tonight, that could also threaten power problems. My feeling is that this storm has a better chance to see outages compared to our Dec 19th event.

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Let it snow!: Does the CWG team have a general plan for updating frequency across the next 36-48 hours? I'm becoming seriously addicted, and it'd help to have a sense of when/how often it's safe to step away... or if I should just give in while the power lasts!

Capital Weather Gang: I like your latter idea (ha, ha), but honestly, we should be doing regular updates early morning, midday, late afternoon, and late evening. I'll check with the team to see if they can publish more specific schedules. Thanks.

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Arlington, Va.: Is it better to shovel periodically as the storm progresses or wait until it's all over?

Capital Weather Gang: We've been saying better to shovel periodically if you can. Unfortunately, the heaviest of the snow is expected overnight with impressive hourly snowfall rates (maybe 2" an hour or more) so it may be difficult to keep up with it.

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Bethesda, Md.: Mr. Rogers, Should I risk going downtown tonight? What's the chance metro closes before 11 p.m.?

Capital Weather Gang: I worry the outside tracks will reach their threshold (8") to close prior to 11pm (maybe between 8-10?), but the underground stations should be able to keep operating.

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Arlington, Va.: For those of us living in the city and reliant on our own two feet and a sidewalk for transportation, how difficult will it be to get around Saturday, assuming there is 2+ feet of snow to trudge through?

Capital Weather Gang: Some colleagues from snowier parts have told me I need snow shoes to trudge through two feet. My guess is that you'll find it quite a chore to go very far at all.

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Washington, D.C. (Dupont Circle): In the storm of 1996, there were power outages -- but there was also more ice/sleet mixed in with that one. Is there any chance of ice here being more of a factor in D.C. proper, or are we sure at this point it's going to be (albeit wet and heavy) snow?

Capital Weather Gang: Good question. I had been concerned that some sleet or ice could mix in early tonight, but some key clues we look at (including soundings, the various models, and the position of the mid-level low) all suggest that sleet/ice will be very limited if all...best chances toward far southeast Maryland. I remember 1996 too...that was quite a storm.

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Centreville, Va.: It seems that this storm is getting more attention (armegeddon-type) than usual, especially when compared to the Dec 19th storm and in previous years. I've been through many snowstorms in this area, but don't remember as much panic and anticipation. Is there something that make this storm different -- meteorogically speaking? AKA our 'perfect storm'?

Capital Weather Gang: Good question. I have been in Washington DC since 1994 (originally from Delaware) and I have never seen such heavy precipitation output from weather models for a winter storm for here. We always need to be wary given the challenges of weather forecasting, but the amount of moisture in this storm really stands out and allows this storm to compete for the biggest in DC history.

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Correlation?: Is there a statistical correlation between bigger snowfalls and global warming? Seems like when it's really cold, there's less snow. (e.g., Antarctica is actually just a very cold desert).

Capital Weather Gang: I don't believe so. Our snowiest DC winter on record was 1899.

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washingtonpost.com: Post Live Coverage NOW

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Matt, What is your accumulation prediction for those of us living downtown D.C., and how confident are you with that prediction?

Capital Weather Gang: Yes, the need for specificity with an inexact science...always a challenge. I am thinking 23-26" for DC downtown. I cannot say high confidence, but given how close we are to the storm, I'd say moderate level.

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Washington, D.C.: CNN is reporting that the accumulation projections for D.C. are way too high because of the high water content in this snow. Are you assuming 1" of precipitation makes 10" of snow, and does that ratio make sense this time?

Capital Weather Gang: Good question and a definite subject of debate. We had a high ratio back in the December storm. I believe it was like 12:1. It should definitely be lower than that this time and the general range has been from 8 to 10 to 1 instead. With liquid projections of 2.5" to 3.1" on various models, it would make sense to think lower-to-mid 20s to account for that.

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Weather patterns: Is this related to El Nino or something? Can you explain that?

Capital Weather Gang: Yes, definitely related to El Nino. Our President's Day Snowstorm occurred during a similar event. We have more cold air supply this year than 2003 which has led to our more frequent snow opportunities.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Snow is steady but light here in PW County, and only just starting to stick. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, right CWG? The moderate/heavy stuff is definitely coming?

Capital Weather Gang: Yes, the heavier radar echoes are gradually building northward from southern Virginia. Late this afternoon and this evening is when the main event commences.

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Falls Church, Va.: I know you can't tell for sure right now, but on this second wave of snow on Tuesday/Wednesday: are we talking about a couple of flurries or certain accumulation? Can you tell?

Capital Weather Gang: It is too early to tell for sure at this point. I am worried we could actually see some sleet/freezing rain mixed with snow for that system given the different storm track. The good news is that it SHOULD be a much lighter event with less of a Gulf of Mexico connection.

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Alexandria, Va.: As the storm develops, what will be the signs of accumulations on the high end or low end of the forecast?

Capital Weather Gang: For me, the critical period is early to mid-evening. That is when the storm is shifting to the coast and we have the biggest risk for any surprises (like sleet). Once we get toward midnight and the coastal storm begins exploding, we should know if we're still on track for the big numbers or not.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Matt, Do you think that Global Warming has anything to do with this storm?

Capital Weather Gang: No, I don't. Our biggest Washington DC snowstorm was the Knickerbocker storm of 1922 with 28".

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Given the soundings for this evening with a large depth of the thermal profile in optimal dendritic growth range, couldn't the snow ratio exceed 10 to 1? Example in the Chicago area on Dec 26th, the sounding had a lesser extent in the optimal range and they achieved 30 to 1 ratios.

Capital Weather Gang: I sense this is a meteorologist! Yes, I have been told of some impressive snow soundings for this system, which could suggest that 10:1 ratios could even be conservative. This seems to be the trickiest part of the forecast.

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Washington, D.C.: I am in downtown DC and the snow is not sticking to grass, pavement, cars or anything. What is chance that there will be more warm air than expected and snow totals will be lower? It seems that often happens when predictions of this much snow are made.

Capital Weather Gang: Definitely wise to be skeptical, but the main heavy moisture and energy is still to come...we were expecting low to no accumulations up to this point (except on already snow-covered areas).

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Charlottesville, Va.: Hi there! Thank you for all your great reporting. When we are warned that we might have to stay in our homes for 24-48 hours -- is that counting from today or tomorrow. And is that based on how fast the city is able to clear roads, or on something else?

Capital Weather Gang: Yes, I hear the Weather Service has issued these warnings and we will be posting them on our blog. Basically, it means to just be ready to be stuck over the weekend if the roads take a long time to clear and if power problems occur. This is a serious dangerous storm (despite our fascination with it) and we should all think of everything we can do to be prepared for it.

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Charlottesville, Va.: It's been snowing here since around 6 a.m., and the snowfall has been steady (increasing as time passes). We've got about 4" so far here.

We had 23" at the December storm and another 10" this past weekend.

And to think I'm a displaced Rhode Islander who moved to D.C. in 1979 after the dreaded Blizzard of '78 (we had 46" in that one). Ugh.

Love you guys in the CWG. Your site is much more fun than what we have here in Central Virgnia.

Capital Weather Gang: thanks for the update!

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Chesapeake Beach, Md.: Hi, Matt. CWG is doing a great job keeping us up-to-date on Snowmageddon -- thanks for that.

I haven't seen much in the way of snowfall predictions with regard to the northernmost end of Southern Maryland. Any thoughts on how much northern Calvert County might get? Especially along the bay?

Capital Weather Gang: Tricky call down there...12-20" is my estimate.

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H St Corridor NE: Hi Weather Gang,

I'm pretty unimpressed with what I see outside. Nothing is sticking. What gives?

Capital Weather Gang: Wait for it.

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Capital Weather Gang: Thanks very much everyone for your questions. Be safe out there during this potential history-making event.

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