Sixty million Americans were placed under advisories, watches or warnings in advance of the storm, which was continuing to pivot into northern New England early Thursday afternoon.
One snowfall jackpot as of sunrise Thursday was near the National Weather Service office in Binghamton, N.Y., where a staggering 40 inches fell. It observed an astonishing 20.5 inches in six hours. The city obliterated its record for the heaviest two-calendar-day snowstorm. The previous top spot of 35.3 inches is held by a storm that struck during mid-March in 2017.
Binghamton’s previous biggest December snowstorm was just around 14 inches, said Lily Chapman, a meteorologist at the Weather Service office in Binghamton. “We really blew out it of the water,” Chapman said.
Several nearby locations had logged more than 40 inches. Litchfield, Pa., in the very northern part of the state, reported 43 inches, which would exceed the Pennsylvania 24-hour snowfall record of 38 inches (from March 1958) if confirmed.
Farther south along Interstate 95, totals lessened as the snow mixed with sleet and freezing rain.
New York City’s Central Park posted 10.5 inches. While about half as much as initially forecast, the amount topped the city’s entire snowfall from last winter, just 4.8 inches. Up to 12.8 inches fell in the Bronx. At Philadelphia International Airport, 6.6 inches fell, demolishing the 2019-2020 seasonal total of 0.3 inches.
The same system was responsible for other severe weather as well, including multiple damaging tornadoes in the Tampa area, as well as a possible twister in North Carolina.
As the storm clears, digging out begins
Late Thursday afternoon, the center of low pressure behind the ongoing snowstorm was pulling away from eastern New England.
Snow had ended in central and eastern New York state, but many areas remain buried — particularly between Binghamton and Albany along Interstate 88.
The band of snow responsible, which also dropped a swath of 20 to 40-plus inches of snow in southern Vermont and western New Hampshire, swept through Maine in the afternoon. The coastline between Portland and Bar Harbor was being hammered by “sudden and brief snowfall rates of 3 to 4 inches per hour.”
Dry air yielded a sharp drop-off in accumulating snowfall north of Bangor.
Farther east, snow was pulling away from eastern Massachusetts.
The storm should wrap up for everyone in eastern New England by Thursday evening, though some lingering ocean-effect snow flurries can’t be ruled out along the South Shore of Massachusetts, particularly in eastern Norfolk and Plymouth counties, as well as on the Cape, overnight into Friday morning.
Staggering, record-setting snow amounts in Pennsylvania and New York
Both the intensity of the snowfall and the total amounts in parts of north central Pennsylvania into south central New York were exceptional.
Williamsport, Pa., had tallied more than two feet of snow around 7 a.m. Thursday, breaking its record for a single snowstorm as flakes continued to fly.
The storm’s snowfall bull’s eye focused in south central New York near Interstate 81. At least half a dozen reports of 40 inches or greater of snow were received, including a measurement of 44 inches in Newark Valley. For comparison, 44 inches is equivalent to Boston’s average annual snowfall.
Snowfall rates may have approached half a foot per hour.
The Weather Service’s Chapman called the snow amounts around Binghamton “overwhelming.” She had been at the office since 10 p.m. Wednesday and working a second straight shift Thursday morning as day-shift forecasters weren’t able to make it to the office.
The hefty snowfall rates were due to a steep change in temperature with horizontal distance at the mid-levels of the atmosphere, boosting upward motion and snowfall production. That allowed a storm that was otherwise unremarkable to produce a narrow zone of excessive snowfall.
Fortunately for those who experienced the heaviest snowfall, temperatures in the teens enhanced the “fluff factor” of the snow, and the light, powdery snowfall did not contribute to widespread power outages. It did, however, bury roadways and even vehicles, the monochromatic blanket of white up to waist deep in spots.
A mess in the Mid-Atlantic
The storm first delivered its icy and wintry wrath to the Mid-Atlantic on Wednesday, where snowfall amounts climbed quickly west of Interstate 95. While Reagan National Airport in Washington officially picked up only a trace of snow, an inch or so fell downtown in the nation’s capital. Northwest of D.C., colder temperatures helped the snow stick. Dulles International Airport picked up 2.3 inches.
Baltimore picked up between two and three inches of snow, but Bentley Springs, 20 miles north of town, saw seven inches. Frederick County in northern Maryland reported up to a foot. Areas just east of the central Appalachians and Blue Ridge experienced a period of icing, accreting nearly half an inch thick near Charlottesville.
Nearly 35,000 customers in Virginia were without power due to ice accretion on power lines, mostly in Fauquier, Culpeper, Orange, Albemarle and Louisa counties.
Icy conditions at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport on Thursday morning contributed to Spirit Airlines Flight 696 skidding off the taxiway. No one was injured.
The storm’s severe side
In addition to delivering heavy snow, wind and mixed precipitation, the overarching storm system instigated pockets of severe weather in the Carolinas and Florida. One or more tornadoes struck near Tampa as a squall line with embedded rotations plowed ashore in Pinellas County.
“Major structural damage” was reported near Pinellas Park from a tornado, while warehouse and vehicle damage was observed near Bryan Dairy Road and 66th Street.
Travelers on the Howard Frankland Bridge, which spans Tampa Bay, were forced to stop as an apparent tornadic waterspout blew across the highway. Florida Department of Transportation cameras captured the spout.
The Weather Service in Tampa warned of “a confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado … located over the Howard Frankland Bridge,” urging travelers that they were in a “life-threatening” situation.
An additional tornado was reported farther inland near Plant City, also confirmed by radar as debris was lofted into the funnel. It too was captured by traffic camera.
A tornado may also have touched down in North Carolina.