Canadian Underwriter

Northeast U.S. winter storm fourth most powerful since 1950: NOAA

January 29, 2016   by Canadian Underwriter

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The January 22-24 blizzard is among the most powerful winter storms in the United States – ranked 4th – to impact the Northeast U.S. since 1950, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The NOAA ranked the storm as Category 4, or “Crippling.” Category 5, or “Extreme” is the highest ranking. Photo: @CP24.

The storm, which dumped heavy snow from the mid-Atlantic to southern New England, is rated as a Category 4 or “Crippling” winter storm on NOAA’s Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale, also known as NESIS, the agency said in a press release on Thursday.

NESIS characterizes and ranks Northeast snowstorms based on areas affected within and outside of the region, using data calculated by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. NESIS is based on the following factors: how much snow falls (at least 10 inches); the size of the area impacted; and the population of the impacted area. NESIS ranks these storms on a five-tier scale ranging from Category 1 – “Notable” to Category 5 – “Extreme.”

“While there were significant impacts, this storm was well forecast,” said Louis W. Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service and co-developer of NESIS with Paul Kocin, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “We saw the system coming a week in advance. Improvements and investments in the capabilities of satellites, our supercomputers, our models, our science and the skills of our forecasters in recent years helped us to provide critical information to emergency managers and decision makers.”

Kocin added that the storm “ranks up there with the great blizzards of the past 100 years in terms of amount of snowfall, size of impacted areas and population affected.”

The snowstorm covered about 434 thousand square miles and impacted about 102.8 million people. Of those, about 1.5 million people had over 30 inches of snowfall; almost 24 million had over 20 inches.

Other storms on the NESIS scale include: Category 5 – March 1993, mid-Atlantic/New England; Category 5 – January 1996, Midwest/mid-Atlantic/New England; and Category 4 – March 1960, Midwest/mid-Atlantic/New England.

Impact Forecasting, Aon Benfield’s catastrophe model development team, recently suggested that the winter storm could be the first billion-dollar weather event of the year for the U.S. “Economic and insured loss will likely be driven by a combination of factors, including roof collapse from high snow loads, coastal flooding, and business interruption claims as a result of travel delays, widespread power outages, and closed businesses,” added Jeff Waters, a meteorologist at RMS.